Dreams replayed

Fleetwood Mac, Rod Laver Arena, February 23, 2004

By Patrick Donovan
The Age (AU)
Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Depending on your musical preference, Fleetwood Mac is one of the great lost blues bands, the quintessence of California soft-rock and LA excess or one of the greatest pop groups of all time.

Impartial rock historians would probably consider all three verdicts valid. The band did lose its edge after drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie replaced its crack blues guitarists with the pop dynamics of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. But while the new team propelled the band to superstar status with slickly crafted pop, the songs were underscored by real emotions and tension.

At Rod Laver Arena last night, about 12,000 fans paid up to $200 each to rekindle memories on the band’s first Australian tour in 14 years. But it was not just a nostalgia trip; they also played songs from their first studio album in 15 years, Say You Will.

The baby boomer-heavy crowd came to hear the hits off the sixth most popular album of all time, Rumours. Having sold just under 20 million copies, it continues to provide for them, with the Say You Will tour grossing $US91 million in the US last year.

Noticeably absent from the latest album and tour is John McVie’s ex-wife, keyboardist Christine McVie, perhaps the band’s unsung hero. But just the fact that former lovers Nicks and Buckingham can share the same stage is enough for the fans, and it was that pairing that worked best on stage here.

Fleetwood Mac were greater than the sum of their parts. Their chemistry was built on complementary songwriting, the sexual frisson between the band’s couples, a brandy-and-cocaine diet and all the resulting tensions.

Decked out in her signature multi-layered, free-flowing, goth-boudoir ensemble (which inspired many clones in the crowd), 55-year-old Nicks filled the arena with her husky voice on classics including The Chain, Dreams, Rhiannon and Gypsy.

Buckingham’s dextrous guitar playing had more room to fill in the absence of McVie’s keyboards, and at times he unleashed a frustrated rocker from within, with long self-indulgent solos. But his guitar-god posturing was really only possible in front of a crowd unaccustomed to harder rock.

The fact that the group is still performing is less a cash-in and more testament to survival. Buckingham summed it up: “It’s been a long and mostly a strange trip, but the point is, here we are.”

The gig peaked with a three-drum version of the tribal masterpiece Tusk, the classic Go your Own Way, and the hit that Bill Clinton adopted for his presidential campaign, Don’t Stop. The crowd was finally on their feet.

Fleetwood Mac play again at the Rod Laver Arena tonight (Tuesday).

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