CONCERT REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac at Prudential Center is enjoyable, but…

(Saed Hindash / Star-Ledger)
Fleetwood Mac lead singer Stevie Nicks belts out a number during their concert Wednesday night, April 24, 2013 at the Prudential Center in Newark. (Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger)

By Tris McCall
The Star-Ledger
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Last year, Hear Music — that’s the label run by Starbucks — released a tribute disc to Fleetwood Mac. There wasn’t a single cover of a Christine McVie song on the collection. Maybe she gave the okay for that, and maybe she didn’t want to negotiate with Hear; in any case, it felt like she’d been written of a story in which she’s a central character.

Last night, the Mac held the stage at the Prudential Center for nearly two and a half hours. There was only a single Christine McVie song on the setlist — “Don’t Stop,” which is mostly sung by Lindsey Buckingham. McVie wasn’t present for the concert, which is nothing new: She hasn’t been performing with the group in more than a decade. Mick Fleetwood mentioned in an interview that the door is always open, and he’d love it if she’d walk through. Some fans have high hopes for the upcoming London gig; in Newark on Wednesday, she didn’t walk through.

I love Lindsey Buckingham. He’s something of an onstage megalomaniac, and he’ll solo all night and day if you let him, but he’s endearing, he’s a magnetic frontman and a dexterous guitarist, and his restlessness and taste for experimentation was put to good use by the rest of the group. I love Stevie Nicks, too; her songs are smart, tough, and intoxicating, and get her going in an extended outro and she’s likely to guide you to places that few singers ever visit. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood are the rare rhythm players with indelible personalities; push play on a Fleetwood Mac recording and within seconds, you’ll know it’s them.There are days on which I am convinced that there has never been a greater British-born rock group than Fleetwood Mac — not the Beatles, not the Kinks, not Led Zeppelin, not the Attractions, nor any of the other boys’, boys’, boys’ bands who never seemed to want to let the girls get a word in.

But that version of Fleetwood Mac is impossible without Christine McVie. She provided the serenity that made Buckingham’s frenetic approach palatable, the earthiness that kept Nicks grounded, and the trancelike electric piano parts that added mystic resonance to the thump and throb of the rhythm section. Most of all, she added terrific songs to the repertoire: songs of romance and warmth, stories that added to that distinctive Fleetwood Mac feeling of men and women in conversation. She did not demonstrate Buckingham’s imagination or Nicks’ urgency. But no songwriter in a band of great songwriters understood the architecture of pop melody better than she did.

Years before Mick Fleetwood had the bright idea of enlisting Buckingham and Nicks, Christine McVie was writing and singing great songs for Fleetwood Mac. She was writing good songs when she was still Christine Perfect, singer and pianist for British blues act Chicken Shack. After Rumours became a smash hit, pre-Buckingham-Nicks material dropped out of setlists, and because of that, an unfair percentage of Christine McVie’s finest work has gotten lost in the Dark Ages of Mac history. She joined the group in 1971 (she’d drawn the children’s book-like cover for the Kiln House set the year before) and immediately became a major contributor. “Believe Me,” the leadoff cut from the 1973 album Mystery to Me, is first-rate Fleetwood Mac and as delicious as anything on Rumours. “Come a Little Bit Closer,” from 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find, anticipated the major-league pop moves the band would make a year later. Once the band hit the big time, she kept right on penning hits: “You Make Loving Fun,” “Think About Me,” “Hold Me,” “Say You Love Me.” (Her album cuts were just as good.)

I’ll have my review of this show in Saturday’s paper, but I’ll give you the short version here: Fleetwood Mac is always something great to behold, but I missed Christine McVie like a jeweled ring I’d dropped down the drain. I want her back, badly, and I’ll bet her former bandmates do, too. The setlist is below, but before we even get to that, here’s a sensational version of the Mac performing “World Turning” in 1976. Notice there is no bandleader — just men and women standing shoulder to shoulder, singing in harmony and in dialogue.

FLEETWOOD MAC
Second Hand News
The Chain
Dreams
Sad Angel (new song)
Rhiannon
Not That Funny
Tusk
Sisters of the Moon
Sara
Big Love
Landslide
Never Going Back
Without You
Gypsy
Eyes of the World
Gold Dust Woman
So Afraid
Stand Back
Go Your Own Way

ENCORE
World Turning
Don’t Stop

SECOND ENCORE
Say Goodbye

(Here is the full review that the author mentioned earlier.)

Still restless, Fleetwood Mac goes deep at Prudential Center

Guitar in hand, Lindsey Buckingham crouched as he walked, approaching the microphone like a cat on the prowl. Mick Fleetwood gave him a heavy downbeat on a tom and he pounced, barking out the verse to “Not That Funny,” an abrasive deep cut from Tusk, the 1979 experimental-pop double album on which he spent the capital Fleetwood Mac had earned with the blockbuster Rumours.

Fleetwood Mac has frequently been a band of complementary voices without a clear leader. But Tusk was Buckingham’s baby, and the Mac set at the Prudential Center in Newark on Wednesday felt very much like Buckingham’s show.

The band is famous for interplay between huge personalities. Christine McVie, the electric pianist and songwriter who acted as a serene counterbalance to Buckingham’s spastic energy, has spent the last decade in retirement from the group, and wasn’t present. Stevie Nicks remains a commanding onstage force, but her voice is diminished — she no longer tries to reach high notes that once seemed to come effortlessly to her. Bassist John McVie is dedicated to self-effacement; drummer Mick Fleetwood remains a powerhouse, but pointedly called Buckingham the band’s musical mentor. Funny, that: it was Fleetwood who, in 1974, invited Buckingham and Nicks to join a group half-named after him, and whose thunderous backbeat holds the group together.

Fleetwood Mac is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Rumours with a reissue and a tour. The band played seven of its cuts, and each one drew an ecstatic response from the packed house. But the group seemed more energized by other material.

Buckingham introduced four straight songs from Tusk with fighting words about artistic independence and the importance of creativity. Later, he held the stage alone for his flashy solo reading of the 1987 hit “Big Love,” and closed the evening with the quiet, acoustic “Say Goodbye.” He took some chances with the Rumours material, too, slowing down “Never Going Back Again” to a crawl, and punking up “Go Your Own Way.” “I’m So Afraid,” the brooding final cut on the band’s self-titled 1975 album, became a launching pad for a guitar solo that, while spectacular in its dexterity, flirted with self-indulgence.

Buckingham and Nicks dissolved their romantic partnership more than 30 years ago — yet the concert kept reminding us of it. The stars emerged hand in hand, beaming like a presidential couple getting off Air Force One, for the encore set. Earlier in the show, Nicks concluded “Sara” with a turn at Buckingham’s microphone and a sweetly flirtatious dance with him. “Without You,” a love song from the pair’s early years as Buckingham Nicks, was presented as evidence of their initial romantic illusions.

A cynic, or even a passionate fan, might reasonably ask why the two continue to poke the embers of a relationship that cooled ages ago, and if that is threatening to eclipse the manifold dimensions of one of rock’s most fascinating groups.

In the late ’70s, Fleetwood Mac was singular. Here was a successful rock band where men and women engaged in musical and lyrical dialogue on equal footing; their stories of love and betrayal bore a stamp of authority that comes from lived experience and mutual respect between romantic partners. Christine McVie’s work was an indispensable part of that dialogue. It is a testament to the depth and quality of the Fleetwood Mac catalog that the band could play for nearly 2½ hours while swerving around McVie’s rapturous songwriting. Nevertheless, she was missed like a lost limb.

The band did not lack energy. Stevie Nicks took a few songs to warm up, and her performances thereafter were often inexact, but when she lost herself in an outro, as she did during a strong reading of “Gypsy,” she rode the wind like a kite. “Stand Back,” a lively but mechanical Nicks solo hit from the ’80s, was made organic by McVie’s bass and Fleetwood’s fills.

The drummer was a marvel throughout the show: His martial intro to “Eyes of the World,” steady stomp during “Tusk” and dramatic build-up before the climax of “Sisters of the Moon” added drama to songs that might otherwise have flatlined. He is the rapid, healthy pulse of a group that, 50 years into its run, remains restless.