REVIEW: Unutterably thrilling (London, UK)

When they spoke, they made little to no sense, but when they sang and played they came close to perfection, says Melissa Kite.

How can Stevie Nicks be 67? Is this possible or has Wikipedia made a mistake?
How can Stevie Nicks be 67? Is this possible or has Wikipedia made a mistake?

Fleetwood Mac
O2

‘I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to get this chance in life,’ said Christine McVie, as the opening jangle to ‘Everywhere’ rang out. Judging by their ecstatic reaction, the audience felt much the same way.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not going to give you a dispassionately critical review of Fleetwood Mac, together again in their classic line-up — Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and, for the first time in 16 years, Christine McVie. But then, who would give you that? A puritan arrived on a time machine from the 16th century? A shadow minister for work and pensions? Who could possibly be so joyless as to not enjoy the Mac being well and truly back?

From the minute the fab five wafted on stage and began thumping out ‘The Chain’ in glorious abandon, this was a show that was as near perfection as it is possible to calibrate. It wasn’t just good. It was so good I was jealous of myself for being there.

This was the 82nd gig of Fleetwood Mac’s On With the Show tour, and they delivered an impeccable showcasing of non-stop hits. For such diverse, eccentric talents to come together and gel at all is a miracle. To gel for so long, how does that work? But perhaps that’s the point. The band makes a wonderful sound in the way that only musicians who have been together a long time, gone through fire, and learnt to accommodate each other, can.

I was on my feet a few numbers in, unable to stay seated for the songs fromTango in the Night, the soundtrack of my youth. But no matter which was your own particular favourite era or album, there wasn’t a number in this show that wasn’t a crowd-pleaser. If you’d wanted a drink, or a trip to the loo, you would have been hard pressed. There just wasn’t a second you could allow yourself to miss.

Stevie Nicks, like an exquisite moth in her winged clothes, the mystic muse, ‘our poet’, as Fleetwood called her, was by turns raunchy and raucous, wounded and delicate. On ‘Rhiannon’ she was every inch the old witch of the song, on ‘Gypsy’ she was knowing, yet vulnerable.

Buckingham played unfeasible guitar solos, yelping and howling like a demented coyote in an acoustic version of ‘Big Love’ that was half rock’n’roll, half flamenco. Standing in a spotlight alone, screeching as his fingers plucked lightning fast arpeggios, the effect he produced was as if Jimi Hendrix had swallowed Joaquin Rodrigo. It was unutterably thrilling, and worked on a deep level, by which I mean that as well as making a fantastic noise, it did things to you that you weren’t exactly sure you wanted doing, as they might dislodge something awkward, emotionally speaking. He tried to explain the song before playing it, referring back to his personal struggles with the lifestyle the band led in their heyday.

‘Tango was a very difficult album to complete,’ he told the audience. ‘We were probably living that lifestyle out to its ultimate conclusion. If I look back on how I was then …this is about the power and importance of change.’ Even though he didn’t make total sense, I understood what he meant.

Effusive about McVie’s return, as they all were, he said: ‘We’ve seen our fair share of ups and downs but it’s made us what we are. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We’ve been able to grow and evolve but also to prevail. And in this karmic, circular moment, with the return of the beautiful Christine, we’ve begun a prolific, profound new chapter in the history of this band.’ I’m allowing it, I thought, as he rambled on, because the man is a genius.

In one of several meandering excursions of her own between songs, Nicks gave a Reith-style lecture on the subject of longevity, but I guess she has earned the right. They had honed their craft properly, she said, supporting Hendrix and other giants in big stadiums before they headlined themselves. They had only survived 40 years because they were ‘proper songwriters’. Then she launched into a ‘we may be old but we’re still down with the kids’ type tribute to Adele, who was in the audience. She dedicated ‘Landslide’ to her, and sang it like she was only a slip of a girl herself.

How can Nicks be 67? Is this possible, or has Wikipedia made a mistake? She looked incredible cavorting around the stage, shaking her long blonde hair, dancing with legs planted wide, frenziedly tipping herself upside down and gyrating like a shaman in a trance. Her voice was as strong as ever. ‘Back to the gypsy that I was,’ she sang, in that world-weary drawl, and you believed her. ‘We love you, Stevie!’ people shouted from the back seats.

She possibly didn’t need to come back to the mike at the end of the encore and start telling us the exact details of how Christine had rung up and told them she was coming back to the band, especially after McVie herself had more than adequately brought proceedings to a close with ‘Songbird’, seated alone at a grand piano, landing us in a sweet, serene place.

Still, I sat listening to Stevie chatting about life, and how it had ‘all worked out beautifully’, long after the rest of the band had gone off stage, and with no hope of another song coming, because, well, she was right, wasn’t she? It had all worked out beautifully.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated .

Melissa Kite / The Spectator / Saturday, June 6, 2015

REVIEW: Back together, and just about perfect

The return of the band’s classic line-up on their On With the Show tour is cause for celebration – and fascination.

“Let’s get this party started!” isn’t the introduction you expect at a Fleetwood Mac show, and especially not from Stevie Nicks, creator of the Hollywood Hills hippie-mystic archetype. But tonight is the 82nd gig of their year-long On With the Show tour and Nicks, splendid in trailing black lace, feels they’ve turned a corner in their relationship with Christine McVie. The singer-pianist’s nervousness about rejoining after a 16-year break has given way to wholehearted mucking in. Nodding towards McVie’s keyboard, behind which she is tall and commanding, Nicks roars: “Now I think we can safely say our girl is back!”

Mac returning to their classic configuration is cause for celebration, and not just because it lets us hear one of pop’s great songbooks performed by the five people who wrote it. There’s also the fascination of seeing them accommodate each other: Lindsey Buckingham, Nicks and McVie get equal front-time, and use it in ways that make you wonder how such disparate personalities functioned in the same group.

Photograph: Jim Dyson/Redferns
Photograph: Jim Dyson/Redferns

Nicks is the spell-casting sensualist, reedily fronting Dreams, Rhiannon and Landslide (dedicating the last to her father and singer Adele); Buckingham’s emotional collapse after years of “leading the lifestyle” is re-created in the angular battering he gives Tusk and Big Love. And McVie is somehow veiled and private, even when singing about bliss and its turbulent aftermath on Everywhere and Little Lies. Mick Fleetwood also gets his eventual moment, with a drum solo on World Turning, but he and John McVie are the perfect rhythm section – there without being too there.

There’s nothing to fault except Nicks’s getting so lost in her cocaine-warning song, Gold Dust Woman, that it goes on for a week – time that could have been better spent hearing the blaring Tusk again. Apart from that, it’s just about perfect.

At Genting Arena, Birmingham, 8 June. Box office: 0121-780 4141. Then touring.

Caroline Sullivan / The Guardian / Thursday, May 28, 2015

REVIEW: ‘Nothing less than extraordinary’

REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac, O2 Arena

The soap opera of the band member’s personal lives has always lent a certain depth and texture to Fleetwood Mac, says Neil McCormick

“The Chain” made for a suitably dramatic opening, showing off the restored Fleetwood Mac to full effect with that fantastic bass, thunderous drums, blood quickening guitar solo and gorgeous wall of harmonies insisting the chain cannot be broken. Going straight into “You Make Loving Fun” drove the point home, showcasing Christine McVie’s smooth vocal and funky keyboards. “I think we can safely say our girl is back” trilled Stevie Nicks.

This tour marks the full reunion of the classic line-up, with the return of Christine McVie after 16 years. The band have become almost the definition of a heritage act in her absence, regularly touring sets of their greatest hits to nostalgic audiences, so you can’t really say she was missed. But there is no doubt she restores some balance, both in musical and pop cultural terms.

Musically, she takes some of the weight off virtuoso guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, her smooth, lush pop songs softening his sharper arty edges. Flowing gems as potent as “Everywhere,” “Little Lies” and “Songbird” were restored to their rightful place in the centre of a Fleetwood set and for that alone audiences have reason to be grateful. But there is a sense too that the dysfunctional family is back together, healing old wounds with the balm of time and music, a message that, in itself, speaks volumes to lifelong fans

Fleetwood Mac make much of their history of “ups and downs” as Buckingham puts it. Now that Christine is back playing again with ex-husband bassist John McVie there are three former couples on stage, if you take into account that drummer Mick Fleetwood romanced singer Nicks behind the back of Buckingham. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Buckingham insisted, and seemed intent on proving it with a playful yet dramatically full blooded duet with his ex on Never Going Back Again.

The soap opera has always lent a certain depth and texture to Fleetwood Mac but, frankly, a little less chatter and a little more playing would be my only suggestion. There were speeches even after the encores. Yet it feels churlish to complain. Precious few bands have contained the range of vocal, stylistic and songwriting talent of the Mac, and even the inevitable inclusion of a new song didn’t start a queue for the toilets. With that taut, explosive rhythm section, Buckingham’s imaginative flair, Nicks’ wildcard charisma and Christine McVie’s singalong soulfulness restored to the heart of the matter, there is really no way this band could be anything less than extraordinary. A lusty mass singalong of “Don’t Stop” spoke volumes about how their audience felt about the return of the Mac.

Neil McCormick / The Telegraph / Tuesday, May 27, 2015