Home » CONCERT REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac shines mightily at Hollywood Bowl

CONCERT REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac shines mightily at Hollywood Bowl

(Miguel Vasconcellos)
(Miguel Vasconcellos)

Led by some of the most expressive singing of Stevie Nicks’ career, the legendary group launched its homecoming run with a special show at the landmark.

By Ben Wener / Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos, Orange County Register
Sunday, May 26th, 2013

When you’re a band like Fleetwood Mac – and more than four decades and several permutations later, there remains no band quite like Fleetwood Mac – any time you decide to play live again, you’re under heavy obligation to deliver a wealth of familiar material.

Especially when you’re headlining the Hollywood Bowl, as the group superbly did Saturday night for the first time since 1997, with virtually nothing new to showcase. That only heightens fan expectation for strictly classics-filled performances.

It’s slightly different with, say, the Rolling Stones, though that overpaid lot had even less recent stuff to shill when they blew through town earlier this month. They’ve merely tacked two rote ones onto an umpteenth retrospective, while the Mac has at least issued a digital-only four-song EP, a sampler of slowly gestating gems that boasts two tunes worthy of their vaunted canon.

“Sad Angel” is their catchiest cut in years, by the way, while “Without You” is an evocative nugget from the early ’70s, when the struggling duo Buckingham-Nicks were about to join an unfocused, collapsing outfit that had once again lost its lead guitarist – then sell tens of millions of records, and lastingly alter the face and feel of rock.

As at those Stones shows, every one of which featured their two new tunes, knowledgeable attendees know these Mac attacks would definitely include those pieces. Yet longtime fans of Jagger & Richards who might catch every Southern California stop on a given outing from them can also anticipate a handful of change-ups each night, not to mention a revolving door of special guests this time around.

Ditto Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whose current small-venue venture, which begins a six-night run at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre next week, has found Stevie Nicks’ oft-stated favorite band switching out a half-dozen tracks from gig to gig. Then there’s Springsteen: he never plays the same show twice.

But Fleetwood Mac does exactly that. There’s always been traces of mark-hitting musical theater to what they present: every show the same set and the same solos in the same order with the same between-song stories, endearingly so from Nicks (rock’s ageless grande dame) but often insufferably from the ensemble’s sonic mastermind, guitarist and co-vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, an admittedly underrated figure who nonetheless overrates himself.

Like the Eagles, they strive for and effortlessly achieve consistency, gladly appeasing their audience’s desire for quality nostalgia at on average $100 a pop. But there’s a comfortable trap that comes with that routine: turning up every so many years to run through the same overplayed selections can get boring for both performers and fans. It’s hard to know how to keep it fresh. The Eagles certainly didn’t figure it out last decade, delivering a two-disc Walmart blockbuster yet failing to convincingly meld any of its material into lengthy concerts.

F-Mac had that same trouble in 2003, when their last album, Say You Will, was meagerly integrated into shows; no surprise it remains 150,000 copies shy of the platinum status the group had otherwise held for 30 years. So they’ve returned with a smarter agenda to combat ever-waning interest in anything apart from 1975’s self-titled breakthrough and the monolithic masterpiece that followed it – Rumours, now available in an exhaustive five-disc-plus-LP edition befitting an album that has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

This 64-and-older bunch (Nicks just turned 65) are now making music at whatever pace suits them, for whatever media platform makes the most sense, rather than race to a tour-enforced deadline. “You would think that a group like us would have nothing left to say,” Buckingham suggested early on at Saturday’s Bowl show, yet “there are a few chapters left in the book of Fleetwood Mac.”

He thinks the gradual process of recording is leading to some of their best music in a long while, and here’s hoping. The more immediate reward for devotees, however, is already evident: the eased studio demands have loosened them up, resulting in highly spirited road performances that breathe new life into brilliant but tired rock warhorses like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and “Rhiannon.” Better still, their renewed enthusiasm is casting vibrant light onto another corner of their glorious ’70s, the fractured fantasia of Tusk.

Tuesday’s undoubtedly valiant replay at Honda Center in Anaheim is a must-see for fans, but it isn’t apt to compare to what the mighty Mac brought to the Bowl. Playing to a capacity hometown crowd at such a prestigious location spurred extra sparks out of these old friends. That was most fundamentally noticeable from the band’s namesakes, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, one of the greatest rhythm sections ever in popular music, still as tight as they are fluid.

Buckingham, in contrast to his faintly pompous storytelling, was otherwise on fire, no matter how exaggerated his panting exhaustion after big finishes. He roared through “Big Love,” soared across one finger-strummed solo after another (skyscraping at the end of “I’m So Afraid”), carried “Gold Dust Woman” to lysergic, Pink Floydian lengths, and generally went too far in strangely riveting ways. Most unusual: the jagged angst of “Not That Funny,” one of a quartet of Tusk tracks in the first half of the show. Only once did he really overdo it, in the absurd way he elongated certain lines of an already slowed-down take on “Never Going Back Again.”

Nicks, on the other hand, taking center stage at the Bowl the night before her birthday, was a revelation.

Something has gotten into her lately. She thanked and dedicated “Landslide” to both Dave Stewart, who produced her fulfilling 2011 album In Your Dreams, and Dave Grohl, who retold her (and Fleetwood Mac’s) tale in his sharp documentary Sound City and lovingly captured one of her most powerful performances on a wrenching new song called “You Can’t Fix This.” Maybe those experiences fanned a flame that was already far from out.

Or maybe rock’s most iconic witchy woman knows the secret so few elder performers ever figure out: the artist ages, not the song. Nicks more than others has kept connected to younger generations of fans: visiting the Glee set when it was Rumours week, duetting with Taylor Swift at the Grammys. She probably sent a personal thank-you to the producer of January’s indie tribute disc Just Tell Me That You Want Me.

She understands why people who could be her grandchildren still respond: “A lot of the songs they love are songs that I wrote when I was really young,” she said in a 2009 interview. “It’s not like they love a song that was written by a 62-year-old woman. They love a song that was written by a 27-year-old girl.”

Saturday night, in an astonishingly rendered performance, she had it both ways, satisfying those whose view of her will always be trapped in time while magnificently expressing her signature songs so that they did sound like they were written by a 60-something.

“Silver Springs,” which rose gloriously, and “Landslide,” never more poignant – and especially a churning version of “Sisters of the Moon,” a song not in the band’s repertoire since 1981 – were all thoughtfully considered the way you wish Dylan would treat his catalog: unleashed to explore fresh wrinkles but with full commitment to the lyric, never losing sight of the melody.

She’s arguably saying more now, about herself and the matters of the heart she’s always sung about, than she ever did when she was half her age. Mick Jagger should be so lucky.

Fleetwood Mac plays again Tuesday at Honda Center in Anaheim (2695 E. Katella Ave.), then returns July 3 to play Staples Center in Los Angeles and July 5 at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena. Tickets are $50-55 at the low end, $150-$160 for choice seats.

Set list: Fleetwood Mac at the Hollywood Bowl

Main set: Second Hand News / The Chain / Dreams / Sad Angel / Rhiannon / Not That Funny / Tusk / Sisters of the Moon / Sara / Big Love / Landslide / Never Going Back Again / Without You / Gypsy / Eyes of the World / Gold Dust Woman / I’m So Afraid / Stand Back / Go Your Own Way

First encore: World Turning / Don’t Stop

Second encore: Silver Springs / Say Goodbye



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