Fleetwood Mac, New Lineup, 1987

Fleetwood Mac keeps truckin’

Buckingham goes his own way as the band takes to the road

FLEETWOOD MAC KNOWS how risky it can be for a hit rock band to confront a live audience with the unfamiliar.

The group received an object lesson in the dicey nature of novelty about 10 years ago in Kansas City, co-founder Mick Fleetwood recalled in a phone interview last month.

“We went out and played material that nobody had ever heard, and we just died. We just weren’t drawing on enough stuff that people knew. We weren’t booed off, but we realized something wasn’t going as well as it normally did. We hung ourselves in public.”

The new songs that were duds in concert turned up soon afterward on an album called Rumours, where, given the chance to seep in, they went over well enough. That 1977 album became one of the all-time blockbusters, with sales approaching 20 million.

Most of the songs Fleetwood Mac plays on the tour that brings it to the Civic Center Sunday night will be familiar to its fans. Even so, the group’s first tour since 1982 is full of the risk of novelty. The songs may be standards, but this is a radically changed Fleetwood Mac.

Over the summer, shortly after the release of Tango In The Night, the best Fleetwood Mac album since Rumours, key member Lindsey Buckingham announced he was finished with the band. Although Fleetwood Mac had two other popular singers and songwriters in Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, Buckingham had figured most prominently in the group’s success over the past 12 years. More than a guitarist or a lead male voice, he was an important shaper of Fleetwood Mac’s high-gloss studio sound. Buckingham was the main architect of Tango In The Night, an album that’s as impressive for the crispness and splendor of its sound as for its generally strong songwriting. Tango was recorded in a studio Buckingham had built in his Los Angeles home. When the other members of Fleetwood Mac began planning to tour, the guitarist announced that home was where he was going to stay.

Lindsey ‘simply doesn’t want to’

“I understand why Lindsey’s not doing the tour – because he simply doesn’t want to do it,” Fleetwood said. “I can think of nothing more horrible than ‘doing it for the company store because I’ve got to do it.’ ”

When Buckingham joined with Nicks in 1975, Fleetwood Mac was well practiced at breaking in new personnel. The band started in 1967 as a British blues-rock group centered around alumni of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. By the time Buckingham joined, drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie already had gone through six guitarists in a line stretching back to Peter Green, the band’s original leader.

Fleetwood said there never was any question about carrying on with the band after Buckingham quit to pursue a solo career.

“I just didn’t feel like rolling over and dying. People that know about us realize the band doesn’t easily disappear.” At Fleetwood’s suggestion, the band started tour rehearsals with Billy Burnette, a guitarist, singer and songwriter who had recorded on his own and with Fleetwood’s side-project, Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo. Enlisted for the lead guitarist role was Rick Vito, a veteran session player who most recently had toured with Bob Seger.

“Billy was not a stranger to anyone in the band. He’d written with Christine and done demo stuff with Stevie. We went into the first day of playing just to see what was happening. I just had a strong intuition that everyone would like it.”

With the personnel change, said Fleetwood, came a commitment to be more of a cohesive, ongoing unit than the loose aggregation of individual careerists that Fleetwood Mac had become. During the ’80s, Nicks emerged as a headliner with three hit solo albums, and all the other Mac members except John McVie released records of their own. Every few years, between solo projects and coping with such publicized personal problems as Christine McVie’s troubled romance with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, Fleetwood’s bankruptcy and Nicks’ treatment at the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse, Fleetwood Mac’s members would get around to recording together.

“All ’round there’s a new philosophy about what we’re doing and what we hope to be doing,” Fleetwood said. “It has to be a little more definite in terms of ‘Are you really in the band called Fleetwood Mac, or are you in it just every five years?’ Stevie volunteered what she wanted to do – which was to put all her energy into the band for quite some time.”

When Fleetwood Mac starts work on its next album after the current tour, the labor will be shared more evenly than it was with Buckingham overseeing the recording sessions as co-producer, Fleetwood said.

“When somebody is as talented as Lindsey most certainly is, and you give somebody the range to do that, you can find yourself a little bit looking on rather than participating. But the nucleus of the band is still very much there. It’s not as if we’ve lost an arm and a leg.”

For diehard fans

On tour, Fleetwood Mac will move into its post-Buckingham period by “pretty much steering clear of Lindsey’s material. I would hate to ask the two guys to come in and sing that – that’s not a cool thing to do.” In addition to songs by Nicks and Christine McVie and Buckingham’s Go Your Own Way, which Fleetwood described as “more a band-oriented song,” the show will include some blues-based material, “stuff from way back when the band first started. I don’t think people will be real familiar with it, except real diehard Fleetwood Mac fans.”

Risky, perhaps – but Fleetwood Mac, a band known for coping with changes as well as any other major rock group, has arrived once more at a point in its history where it can’t avoid taking risks.

Fleetwood Mac plays Sunday night at the Civic Center. The Cruzados open the show at 7:30. Tickets cost $17.50.

Mike Boehm / Providence Journal (RI) / October 30, 1987

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