Fleetwood Mac: Madison Square Garden, NYC

YOU ENTER the stream of bodies pouring through the portholes of Madison Square Garden. You get caught up in the tide. Into the awesome space – the impersonality of the place is scary. Why am I here? Their blockbuster records each contain a few songs I admire for the ingenuity of their construction, but most of them just go in one ear and out the other. Yet Fleetwood Mac are a phenomenon as much as they are a group; perhaps more an economic phenomenon than a musical one though.

1979-tusk-press

YOU ENTER the stream of bodies pouring through the portholes of Madison Square Garden. You get caught up in the tide. Into the awesome space – the impersonality of the place is scary.

Why am I here? Their blockbuster records each contain a few songs I admire for the ingenuity of their construction, but most of them just go in one ear and out the other. Yet Fleetwood Mac are a phenomenon as much as they are a group; perhaps more an economic phenomenon than a musical one though.

So I wanted to know: how do these hit-makers face up to the crucial point when performer meets audience? Not that there is likely to be much of a confrontation here. When a group reach Mac’s status, their audience isn’t sifting out there waiting to judge. They come to adore, to receive the blessings of a magic presence.

The physical scale of the event reinforces the impression of a ritual removed from the constraints of communication. That stage is so big, so distant, the human figures are so small they could be toys, puppets on strings. But the space gives them certain grandeur as well, since they command it with amplification and volume.

We can hardly see them, but we know they are there. They must be Gods.

To their credit, Fleetwood Mac don’t play up to this arena-deification syndrome. There is a minimum of pretension in their stagecraft: no light shows or flashy sets, and they don’t come on haughty or imperious. At times, there is genuine warmth and grace in their show (particularly when Christine McVie is singing); and at other times there’s a real urgency and power straining to come through.

But they are trapped up there as surely as we in our seats are trapped down here. That’s a pity.

They look like woody, seedy California communards, except for Lindsey Buckingham who seems like a rich hippie whose parents had just made him get a haircut. But they sound good, confident players kicking into their material with conviction. Often, they sounded like a rock and roll band (surprise) as opposed to a pop machine, the harder edges driven in by Buckingham’s rhythm-guitar and Mick Fleetwood’s powerful, propulsive drumming.

The mixture of styles they present smacks heavily of an attempt to provide something for everyone. But this is probably the natural result of the three different personalities alternating as band leaders, and, much more so than on record, Fleetwood Mac in concert seem like three different bands.

Behind Stevie Nicks, they are mellow, temperate, cruising on automatic, unprodded and unchallenged. Nicks is supposed, I know, to be an enigmatic, mystical child, and all that baloney, but this translates into a haughty reserve that makes her seem either stiff or scared.

There is little natural ease in her manner. She projects no warmth, only an artless self that seems to leave her unaware of the vast audience watching her pout into her private mirror.

Rumours that Nicks is losing her voice seem partly true. In comparison to her earlier recordings she has lost some of her high range. That little girl sweetness isn’t there. This is most obvious on “Landslide,” a sensitive poetic number she sings with Buckingham accompanying on acoustic guitar.

I also expected more kinetic energy from Nicks. She should fly, or at least move a bit when singing lines from “Rhiannon” about being “taken by the sky.” But everything about her delivery is strictly pedestrian.

Christine McVie’s voice is delicious. Live, it sounds better than on record, richer, charged with commitment and more soul.

As a performer, she is sedate, hiding behind her keyboards as if playing a supporting role, even when singing lead. But she has an air of sincerity about her that makes her odes to love won and lost at least seem hearfelt and genuine. Her “Say You Love Me” is a perfect opener for the concert, breezy, rocking, a good opportunity for the band to display a full, confident sound.

As a songwriter, though, McVie doesn’t always hit that high mark. Many of her numbers allow the Fleetwood rhythm section to coast along and the band to present a sound that is just a finely tuned version of West Coast mellow rock.

It was down to Lindsey Buckingham to move the band into anything approaching strenuous action.

His first song of the set is “Not That Funny” which seems off-hand and lightweight on Tusk but here is a brash and forceful romp. On “What Makes You Think You’re The One” Buckingham really comes out. He emphasises the quirky, stop-start rhythms of the song, and moves like a cross between Elvis Costello and David Byrne; not a trace of El Lay laid-backness in sight.

With his well-tanned and innocent face, Buckingham looks odd carrying on like a wired-up new waver, but never mind. He’s funny, a treat to watch, and he makes the band earn its supper keeping up with him.

“Go Your Own Way” is a heady mix of perfect harmonies and if Fleetwood Mac were always this good, I’d listen to them all night. But the best moment was “Tusk.”

Tapes simulated the special effects of the record, while Mick Fleetwood churns out a powerhouse beat, rock and roll jungle drums. The song is an off-beat setting within which Buckingham can go nuts, spewing chord clusters and random vocal shrieks like freak time at the zoo.

I’d never thought Buckingham would be a guitarist to watch, but he is. He’s accomplished but not too flash, and knows how to cut loose. Only on “I’m So Afraid” does he fall into a plodding, heavy metal-type mush.

There are other lapses: “World Turning” seems to sit still; other songs (as on their albums) just pass by, proficiently executed but undistinguished.

What purpose is served depends on what purpose brings you here. If you are a fan, you’ll probably be pleased. Recreations of the songs you know and love are delivered with skill and fidelity, with an occasional extra push of energy derived from the live setting. The show’s not a cheat.

But there is little intimacy or contact, and aside from Buckingham’s surprising commitment to rocking out, there are cracks in the established images these people have painted in the media mind, no new insights into who they are or why they do what they do.

If you are looking for something challenging, like to see a band thinking on its feet, or are seeking great moments in the creation of pop/rock music, spend your money elsewhere.

© Richard Grabel / NME / December 1, 1979 (Accessed via Rock’s Backpages)

Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, The Eagles’ The Long Run

LONG AND EAGERLY AWAITED, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk comes as the most spectacular event in records since Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Less of an event is the release of The Long Run by the Eagles, who have delivered a workmanlike disc full of neither disappointments nor surprises. Tusk stretches the limits of the recording medium. The Long Run stays safely within them.

Fleetwood Mac Tusk (1979)LONG AND EAGERLY AWAITED, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk comes as the most spectacular event in records since Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Less of an event is the release of The Long Run by the Eagles, who have delivered a workmanlike disc full of neither disappointments nor surprises. Tusk stretches the limits of the recording medium. The Long Run stays safely within them.

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, released almost three years ago, sold 14 million copies, and the record industry’s anticipation of Tusk has been somewhat more intense than waiting for ketchup out of a bottle. One of the maxims of the industry is that a big hit brings people into the stores. Except for its double-disc price of $15.98, Tusk ought to leave Rumours in the dust, conferring a new regality on Fleetwood Mac.

Tusk ought to do for Fleetwood Mac what Sgt. Pepper did for the Beatles, which was to wrench recognition from the adult establishment, not just for commercial success for esthetics but because the thrust of the music finally bridged the generation gap. But Tusk is not as tight as Sgt. Pepper. It’s more reminiscent of the Beatles’ double-disc White Album because it has more room to express the sharp musical differences between the three songwriters of the group, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks.

Certainly Tusk ought to skyrocket Fleetwood Mac out of the strictly teeny-bopper category that last year made the Capital Centre think it could present the group so appallingly, with general-admission tickets and no seats on the floor so that you had to stand in the crush as if you were watching the correct from a cattle car.

The surprises on Tusk are provided mainly by Buckingham, who sheds his pretty-boy image with this album to emerge as an intense John Lennon-like genius, with a studio in his house where he experiments with sounds and syncopation, and lyrics so cutting they don’t even leave scars.

Buckingham would record tapes at home and bring them into the studio for the other in the group to hear. They began to understand what he was trying to do and got behind it, contributing fills, rhythms and harmonies, sometimes in nonsensical whispers, that track enigmatically through both discs.

The most mysterious song is the title cut, “Tusk,” for which drummer manager Mike Fleetwood provided the drum track and then rented Dodger Stadium for overdubs by the horns of the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band. Released as a single with a background of unintelligible crowd noises, and acid lyrics, Tusk will probably be the first hit off the album.

The album emerges as a personal triumph for Buckingham, with the credit on the sleeve reading, “Produced by Fleetwood Mac (Special Thanks To Lindsey Buckingham).” But there are other surprises. When Stevie Nicks sings “Sara,” a tune that could easily be criticized as a construction of ’50ish schlock with the same melody as Love Unlimited’s “Love’s There,” she sings her fragile lyrics so beautifully you just might find tears running down your cheeks.

Tusk leaves you at a loss to compare Fleetwood Mac with any other group except the Beatles, largely because of the depth on its songwriting bench. If Buckingham is Lennon, then Stevie Nicks is Paul McCartney. She knows enough about what delights the ear to end up the big moneymaker.

Still there is a difference, and that difference is women. As others have already pointed out, Fleetwood Mac is the first group of the Beatles’ caliber to integrate women so successfully.

When Tusk will not surprise you is in the unmistakable Fleetwood Mac sound that you remember from “You Make Loving Fun.” It’s as haunting as ever but embarrassingly predicted, with bassist John McVie favoring pedal tones in eighth notes like a rotor, while Buckingham’s guitar contributes bluesy licks in a two chord vamp.

But the magic is in the interaction of the group, in the performances and in the feel, and especially in the psychic communication that goes on among them. Fleetwood Mac pumps you full of energy, romantic and mellow, without dulling the edge you need to cut your way through reality.

The only anxiety you get from Tusk is wondering how much longer this cartel of talent, featuring two pairs of ex-lovers, can keep their egos, tempers and band intact.

As for the Eagles, The Long Run is far from a disaster. It’s just another Eagles album. There is experimentation throughout the disc and even at their worst, the Eagles are nothing short of great, but there are no cuts on The Long Run that achieve the brilliance of “Lyin’ Eyes” or “Hotel California” or even “Life in the Fast Lane.”

Eagles fans will be well satisfied with this album, which is already No. 1 on the pop charts. “Heartache Tonight,” the first single off the album, is also a hit. “I Can’t Tell You Why,” sung by the group’s new bass player, Timothy Schmit, formerly with Poco, promises to be another. “In the City,” featuring Joe Walsh, could be still one more. But whether any of these cuts will grow on us the way previous Eagles hits did is still questionable. These are all more solid than inspired.

To experience the Eagles’ sound is always a job. The Eagles are also storytellers, and their stories are superlatively told. In The Long Run, the Eagles maintain their quality, but they don’t reach any further.

© Al Aronowitz / Washington Post / November 14, 1979 (Accessed via Rock’s Backpages)

Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Warner Brothers)

Tusk, a long time in the making, is by and large a good four-sided pop record. It’s no untarnished masterpiece, of course, but a highly adventurous gamble for much of its playing time, and certainly not just another coldly precise and pristine work.

Fleetwood Mac Tusk (1979)ALMOST EVERYONE, barring the inevitable elitist bores blinkered by their own super-hipness, seemed to have a soft spot for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. In late ’77, Rolling Stone even ran an absurd piece attempting to work out the whys and wherefores for the album’s astounding success, only to waste several thousand words of piffle concluding that it was, in the words of Warners’ Derek Taylor, “simply a very, very good two-sided pop record.”

Tusk, a long time in the making, is by and large a good four-sided pop record. It’s no untarnished masterpiece, of course, but a highly adventurous gamble for much of its playing time, and certainly not just another coldly precise and pristine work.

In retrospect, although the fact didn’t impinge on the listener, the contents of Rumours were housed within a framework, that being the very real breakdown of relationships within Fleetwood Mac, the traumas experienced thereby and the need to come to terms with a then newly gained independence, all of which were apparently occurring during the album’s recording. But now some three years have passed since then and Tusk, bereft of such a stormy emotional centrepoint, can clearly zero in on the diverse compositional talents of the group’s three songwriters, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

When this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was ushered into the public eye with the Platinum ice-breaker Fleetwood Mac, of the three composers involved in the enterprise it was the two ladies who shone. Although prolific, Buckingham seemed unable to match their standards, to the point where his songs lacked clout, sounded anonymous and appeared mere fillers.

But Buckingham mustered his resources for Rumours and cuts like ‘Go Your Own Way’ were amongst the album’s high-points. Now on Tusk he’s become responsible for the largest output, clocking in a sturdy nine songs to McVie’s six and Nicks’ five. A ‘Pure pop’ purveyor, his work reeks of the influences of The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds, although he does manage to twist these tips of the pen to forceful effect.

After the set’s opener, McVie’s sparsely melodic “Over And Over,” Buckingham artfully breaks the potential preciousness of mood by throwing in a naggingly jaunty hoe-down of a rocker in the Carl Perkins tradition replete with effective loopy tweaks and a thick buzz-saw guitar sound worthy of Dave Edmunds entitled “The Ledge,” which could easily fit into Rockpile’s repertoire. McVie immediately responds with a smooth rocker, ‘Think About Me’, which, with Buckingham’s raunchy guitar phrasing very much in the Keith Richards tradition, is to pop what ‘Tumblin’ Dice’ was to rock.

Buckingham is all over the album, in fact, and his presence as a composer, producer and/or guitarist continually helps to keep everything diversified yet unified in its buoyancy. “What Makes You Think You’re The One” is an effective, lightweight and jokey slice of raucousness, not unlike some of The Beatles White Album frivolities. His Beach Boys debt is all too obvious in “That’s All For Everyone,” which features a gorgeously floating and incandescent coda that makes for the finest Brian Wilson music never written since “Sail On Sailor.” “Not That Funny,” on the other hand, is a Cajun-style bruising thump-up with a fade-out all too redolent of more White Album idiocies.

Buckingham’s finest moments occur on side three with “That’s Enough For Me,” a thrillingly dervish-fast blues rocker powered by Mick Fleetwood’s wicked bass drum mule kick and Buckingham’s sawing electric rhythm guitar underpinning a dazzling display of ragtime guitar picking. Finally, at the end of the side, Buckingham reshapes all the melodic power of “Go Your Own Way” into “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” a driving piece of rock action building to an infectious climax that mates The Byrds’ “Lady Friend” coda with all the bollocks of Sex Pistol-like multi-guitar power.

As important as Buckingham’s compositions are to Tusk, his production work helps to maintain an ever-effective spartan feel – only the essentials, with the odd embellishment carefully etched in for maximum impact – whilst his guitar playing continually impresses by dint of its virtuosity without ever being too flashy.

This feel is of paramount importance, particularly when faced with Nicks’ songs. If Patti Smith didn’t so desperately want to be a man and had a real comprehension of what makes for good musical structure, then she might well be Stevie Nicks. More to the point, even when her songs are obviously well constructed and lyrically intriguing, one continually gets this distinct image of Nicks as a young woman who played Ophelia at some high school production of Hamlet and never quite recovered from the experience. With “Rhiannon,” her dalliances with the supernatural were interesting and musically potent, but since then this infatuation with her dream-like enigmatic self as some extra-terrestial being touched by the whims of the muse’s wand has become just too precious to stomach.

“Sara,” for example, is a perfect example of this aspect of her writing and it’s becoming overbearing. Blessed by an ability to build attractive chord progressions, Nicks walks a thin line between what’s beguiling and what’s babble. Fortunately she has the musical wherewithal to paint an aural landscape on “Storms” that is genuinely affecting due mainly to the intimacy of the production at hand, whilst ‘Angel’ has a kick to it, a verve that keeps it lively and listenable. Her obvious piece de resistance “Sisters Of The Moon” is more heavenly wanderlust, made palatable by Buckingham’s blazing guitar holocaust.

Christine McVie is far more earthbound, and her six love songs are simple, pleasing paeans to the tender trap. Hers are woman’s songs that lack the self-consciousness of Joni Mitchell’s former odes to sweet surrender, say, and at their best, as in the hauntingly beautiful “You’ll Never Make Me Cry” and the seductive coda of “Brown Eyes,” make for quintessential adult pop music.

Dealing with the three composers separately, it’s all too easy to forget Fleetwood Mac as a group which, if nothing else, Tusk is testament to. Fleetwood’s drumming is an exercise in precision and sympathy, whilst bassist John McVie is so good you don’t even notice him.

Ultimately it’s time to stop bracketing Fleetwood Mac alongside Foreigner, Boston, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, etc, in the same way that reactionaries bracket together The Clash, Human League, pragVec, The Slits and Elvis Costello.

Fleetwood Mac make good, adventurous “pop.” As Charles S. Murray said of Joe Jackson, if you reckon you’re too hip for Tusk, then you’re simply too hip.

© Nick Kent / NME / October 20, 1979