PRE-SHOW: Fleetwood Mac returns to Quicken Loans Arena

Fleetwood Mac – including Christine McVie – returns to Quicken Loans Arena

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A piano with 87 keys can get close, but it will never be right. So it was that Fleetwood Mac minus keyboardist and singer Christine McVie could never be right.

That’s changed now, just in time for the band’s Wednesday, Feb. 18 gig at Quicken Loans Arena.

McVie, who was always “the quiet one in a band known for larger-than-life personalities like her ex-husband, bassist John McVie; singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham; Buckingham’s ex, the raspy-voiced ethereal Stevie Nicks; and the role model for the Muppets’ skins-pounder Animal, drummer Mick Fleetwood, has rejoined the band.

This is how Caroline Sullivan, a writer with the British newspaper The Guardian put it:

“The welcome she’s received from fans and press has been clamorous; with McVie back in the fold, Fleetwood Mac are finally whole again.”

For 16 years — with the exception of a one-off show in England in 2013 and the band’s 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — McVie and Fleetwood Mac had lived separate musical lives.

And the band was worse off for it.

I’ve seen a couple of “reunion” shows during the self-imposed hiatus by McVie, whose bluesy alto always was my favorite part of the band behind Rumours, Tusk and more. None has impressed me.

Nicks, though she retains the demure look that made her the stuff of dreams for many a young man back in the ’70s — and yes, I speak from experience — is just too vocally one-dimensional to carry a band.

Here’s how I put it in my review of their June 2013 concert at The Q:

“But Fleetwood Mac has always been about the vocals, and as the saying goes, therein lies the rub. Nicks still LOOKS 25, but she’s 65 now, and her already limited range is even more limited. Not that much, you understand, but enough to make a difference. To use a sports analogy, it’s like a home run hitter who’s lost a few mph off his swing; balls that used to reach the bleachers are now warning-track outs.”

I wouldn’t say that it was the worst show I saw that year, but I will say it didn’t even crack the top 10 in terms of best shows.

That is likely to change with McVie back in the fold of the band in which she was a part even before Buckingham and Nicks. And while those two seem to get most of the songwriting credit, the reality is that Christine McVie’s pen was a huge part of the success that put the band in the Rock Hall.

“Songbird,” off the Rumours album, is a soaring testament to the beauty of her voice and her subtle touch on the keys, coupled with Fleetwood’s deft but understated cymbal accents, turns a simple song into classic.

“Little Lies,” may be a little over-produced — a common trait during the 1980s when albums like its home, Tango in the Night, were being made — but it’s remarkable for its purity of lyric and hooks.

Of course, “Don’t Stop” is, was and ever shall be her signature Fleetwood Mac song. The tune, also on the Rumours album, which came out in 1977, is as much a part of the band’s history as Fleetwood’s bug-eyed grin, Nicks’ dreamy dress twirls, John McVie’s solid bass lines and Buckingham’s fret-burning guitar runs.

At 71, Christine McVie is the eldest member of the band, trailed by John, 69; Fleetwood, 67; Nicks, 66; and Buckingham, 65. As crass as it may sound, the deaths of Ian McLagan and Joe Cocker and Jack Bruce have brought home to me — and I suspect to some of their peers — that there IS such a thing as mortality.

So I’m really glad that McVie called the band after what was supposed to be a one-off show in 2013 and asked how they’d feel about her coming back, and that they welcome her with open arms.

You see, I just passed along my vinyl copies of Rumours and Tusk to my daughter and her family, and we spent a night during my last visit to their home listening to them, marveling about how good Fleetwood Mac was back then, and wondering if they could be again.

And now, at last, all the keys are in place.

Chuck Yarborough / Cleveland Plain Dealer / Wednesday, February 11, 2015