By Keith Spera / Times Picayune
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Midway through Fleetwood Mac’s two-hour-and-20-minute headlining set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest’s Acura Stage on Saturday, Stevie Nicks spun a tale about “Without You.” Originally a poem, she and then-paramour Lindsey Buckingham recorded it in the early 1970s for their unreleased second duo album. “Without You” faded into the hazy mists of memory until they “rediscovered” the song three years ago on YouTube.
“We loved it, we lost it, we found it,” Nicks explained.
She was speaking of the song, but she might well have been describing the arc of Fleetwood Mac’s career, one of rock’s great success stories and soap operas. Like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac accounted for one of the best-selling albums of all time, as well as one of the most enduring catalogs in American popular music. Also like the Eagles — and with the additional baggage of multiple intra-band romances — they fractured badly, only to come together again as an older and presumably wiser unit.
Much of the Fair Grounds was still a muddy bog on Saturday, but the weather was picture perfect — clear skies, mild temperatures. Tens of thousands of people filled the Acura Stage field and spilled over the dirt track all the way to the fences.
What they witnessed in the second half of Fleetwood Mac’s set was a band that still very much wants to be a band. Nicks, Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie — Christine McVie, John’s ex-wife and the lead singer on several Mac hits, has not toured with them in years — could have phoned in a greatest-hits recital and called it a day.
But to their credit, they were not afraid to take chances, and their time. Last week, Jazz Fest moved up Fleetwood Mac’s start time to 4:40 p.m., giving the band 30 minutes more than originally scheduled. They easily filled them.
The show’s early going included classics — “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Tusk” — as well as “Sad Angel,” from a new Mac EP. “Every time we go apart and come back together, it’s different,” Buckingham said. “You’d think a band that’s been together as long as us would have nothing new to discover, but there do seem to be a few chapters left in the history of Fleetwood Mac.”
History still weighs heavily on them. But now they seem to share the warm camaraderie of veterans who survived a war together. Midway through the show, Nicks and Buckingham were left alone for an intimate duet on “Landslide.” Buckingham finger-picked an acoustic guitar as Nicks sang, “I’m getting older.” At the song’s conclusion, he gallantly kissed her hand.
When Nicks and Buckingham first joined Fleetwood Mac, some fans of the band’s first incarnation as a blues-based rock group were horrified, but they provided the necessary ingredients for mass popularity. A couple at the time, they came as a package; Nicks joked that Mick Fleetwood was really only interested in Buckingham’s guitar skills.
“The voices, all that stuff was completely secondary,” she said. “They just wanted you, let’s face it.”
Buckingham grinned: “It worked out OK.”
At the Fair Grounds, Nicks battled a “New Orleans bug” that was stuck in her throat. “I need some coffee or I’m never going to get through this next song,” she said. “If it totally sucks, Lindsey will be singing lead.”
The next song was “Gypsy,” which would have been an unfortunate choice for Buckingham. Happily, Nicks managed just fine. “Thank you everybody for being so patient,” she said. “We’re learning to live with that bug.”
She accented her black-on-black ensemble — high-heeled, platform suede boots and, for one song, a top hat — with sparkling strands and scarves on her microphone stand and a succession of shawls. During “Gold Dust Woman” — which Fleetwood prefaced with a bass drum and cowbell beat — she and the band embarked on an extended breakdown. “Baby, baby, baby, you should see me now,” she sang. She traced the silhouette of a woman — a gold dust woman? — in the air, then turned to face Fleetwood’s drum kit, holding her shawl aloft like angel wings.
Buckingham’s voice was a bit craggy at points, but his guitar work was consistently aggressive and vital. During a romp late in the set, he ripped off distorted, dirty riffs, high-stepping and stomping across the stage. He pounded the guitar’s neck with his fists, and slapped it, producing squalls of sound. Afterward, he tapped a hand to his heart, then blew the crowd a kiss.
The band’s auxiliary keyboardist — there also was a secondary guitarist, and two female backing vocalists — carried Nicks’ solo hit “Stand Back.” They went back to the Mac with “Go Your Own Way.” It got off to a shaky start; Nicks eyed Buckingham from across the stage, as if trying to get in sync with him. It was all good once the crowd took over the chorus. Buckingham, the bite still in his guitar, ended the song atop Fleetwood’s drum riser, whacking a cymbal with his bare hand.
The encore opened with a sturdy “World Keeps On Turning,” its churning riff angular and lean. It was a bit late in the day for a drum solo, but Fleetwood took one anyway. “You know it’s comin!” he shouted.
Although Christine McVie no longer tours with the band, her signature composition “Don’t Stop” does. Buckingham sang the first verse, Nicks the second. “Don’t Stop” is about moving beyond grief, about looking toward a brighter day. “Yesterday’s gone,” they repeated.
Not if you’re Fleetwood Mac, it isn’t. Yesterday, rediscovered, still sounds pretty great.