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CONCERT REVIEW: Old songs and regret, the anger still fresh

From left, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac performing at Madison Square Garden on Monday night as part of its North American tour. (Chad Batka for The New York Times)
From left, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac performing at Madison Square Garden on Monday night as part of its North American tour. (Chad Batka for The New York Times)

Fleetwood Mac at Madison Square Garden

By Jon Pareles
New York Times
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The kid gloves were off when Fleetwood Mac performed its old songs at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. “Damn your love! Damn your lies!” Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks sang, bitter and enraged, in “The Chain,” from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album, Rumours, which has sold 19 million copies in the United States and was reissued in an expanded version this year.

One factor in the blockbuster success of Rumours is that it sounds much prettier than what the songs say. The lyrics are full of heartbreak and recriminations, reflecting the breakup between Mr. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks and the failing marriages of Fleetwood Mac’s drummer, Mick Fleetwood, and bassist, John McVie (whose wife, Christine McVie, was also in the band). Yet the music was full of glossy guitar lines and companionable harmonies; it was radio-friendly California soft-rock.

Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks at Madison Square Garden. (Chad Batka for The New York Times)
Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks at Madison Square Garden. (Chad Batka for The New York Times)

The band didn’t ignore nostalgia. Between songs, Mr. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks talked about what the lyrics meant, then and now. Ms. Nicks, as always, wore glittery shawls and had many ribbons dangling from her tambourine; at one point she wore a top hat. Mr. Fleetwood, when he stepped from behind the drums, was wearing jodhpur-like cropped pants and dangling spheres, as on the Rumours album cover. (The band’s North American tour runs through the summer, stopping at the Prudential Center in Newark on April 24.)

Three decades later, the surfaces are rougher, the passions less restrained. It’s not just that Mr. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks both show wear in their voices: Mr. Buckingham taking on more rasp and bite, Ms. Nicks rationing her high notes. The absence of Ms. McVie, who retired from touring with Fleetwood Mac in 1998, has also shifted the band’s chemistry, since her alto voice offered some solace and her songs — like “Don’t Stop,” part of Monday’s set — provided some cautious optimism.

But Fleetwood Mac also sharpened other components of the songs. It started many of them with Mr. Fleetwood alone on drums, setting out the beat to reveal the music’s pounding, aggressive underpinnings. Mr. Buckingham’s guitar parts — fast, complex perpetual-motion patterns of thumb and fingers — pelted harder, more percussively, than they did in studio album mixes.

The band has reshaped some of its songs too: adding a slow introduction to “Tusk” that brought out its bitter verse — “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?/Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?” — and shifting “Gold Dust Woman” from sullen calm to bluesy ferocity; even its cowbell sounded meaner. “I’m So Afraid” greatly expanded its lead-guitar coda until Mr. Buckingham was pummeling the fretboard with both hands.

Mr. Buckingham said that Fleetwood Mac had recorded new songs in the studio and would soon be releasing an EP, via its Web site; it played one of them, the countryish “Sad Angel,” with lyrics hinting at end-times revelations.

Yet what continues to stir Fleetwood Mac, it seems, is the Buckingham-Nicks romance, which ended after the duo joined Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1974. The band resurrected one of the pair’s songs from the 1970s, “Without You.” It’s a fond song that Ms. Nicks wrote for Mr. Buckingham when, she said, “We were really young and beautiful and in love,” and was lately rediscovered as a demo recording that had been posted to YouTube. And to end the concert, the two were onstage alone, singing “Say Goodbye” from Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 album, Say You Will. As his fingers flew through one more virtuosic picking pattern, Mr. Buckingham sang, “Once you said goodbye to me/Now I say goodbye to you.” But they were still together onstage.

Fleetwood Mac’s North American tour continues through July 6; a schedule is at fleetwoodmac.com.

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