Balance restored as a magnificent five-piece, but they could still talk less.
Rating: 4/5 stars
To begin at the very bizarre ending. Fleetwood Mac, finally reincarnated as a five-piece with Christine McVie back stage right on luscious vocals and keyboards, had just thrashed out a show of great finesse for two hours. It had all gone peachily. McVie, the band’s original songbird, was given a last lovely encore – “For You” – sung solo on a grand piano. It should have been the last word. Many were already going, or gone.
But after one last bow Stevie Nicks, looking as ever like an accident in a taffeta factory, had a rambling tale to tell about McVie’s prodigal return to the band after 16 years. This bathetic oration lasted about three minutes. Then Mick Fleetwood, perhaps refusing to cede the last word to anyone else, came out to tell one and all to “take care of yourselves and be kind to one another”.
The band that launched a thousand documentaries has overdosed on the talking cure. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Lindsey Buckingham. And of course richer. The reincarnated Mac have been touring since September – this return to the band’s first home was their 82nd date. The McVies have the the right idea. Christine said it was nice to be back, while John, looking like a London dustman after a makeover, never opened his gob. You always know he’s there, though. Fleetwood Mac takes its name from its rhythm section, and last night at the O2 they were loud in the mix from the first thuds of Fleetwood’s bass drum and McVie’s iconic running bassline in “The Chain”. Too loud sometimes: “Rhiannon” should be all about Nicks but was as much about drum and bass.
The return of Christine McVie has restored Mac to equilibrium. A mulch of British rhythm and blues and San Franciscan flower power was held in balance by the more grounded of its two songbirds. For years there’s been nothing to bridge the gap between Fleetwood’s leaning-on-the-lamppost shtick and the larval gush of Californian bullshit coming from moon-sister Nicks and karmic old stoner Buckingham. As the first three songs rolled out from Rumours – “The Chain”, “You Make Loving Fun” and “Thunder” – the band’s three voices were back in sync. McVie’s lovely mumsy alto is still the only known antidote to Nicks’ magnificent mystical foghorn.
Rumours was, as only right and proper, at the heart of this reunion. It still casts a hell of a spell even if no one – not even the three graces on backing vocalists – had the whoomph to hit the high harmonic line in “Second Hand News”. But the oldies don’t have to be carbon copies. In the acoustic interlude, Buckingham led a clever if slightly self-indulgent reinterpretation of “Never Going Down Again”, full of slow slide vocals and delayed entrances.
Such is the giant shadow cast by Rumours that Buckingham wasn’t entirely disingenuous to mention “an album called Tango in the Night”. “Big Love”, full of inchoate back-to-the-woods all-American yowls, was prefaced by his now usual blurb about what the song meant then and means now. There are two Buckinghams, the shaman and the showman. When he wasn’t sharing the fluff in his navel, he spent the night duck-walking in skinny jeans and wigging out like a teenager, climaxing the main set with a guitar solo in which he was, basically, beating off.
There were several sniffs of the band as a work in progress. Fleetwood came to the front to bash a smaller kit for the fivesome’s not-that-great first ever single, “Over My Head”, affording a tantalising glimpse of what it would be like to see them play a club. “Landslide” – Nicks’s lovely lyrics about ageing now truer than ever – was a moment of peace in a stormy night. At the song’s end, she wiped a finger across Buckingham’s sopping brow. There was that much love in the room.
Rumours’ bloated successor Tusk was quoted. The title song, with its marching-band brass blasted out on synths, remains impressively weird. “Sisters of the Moon”, with a colour-boosted Celtic landscape on the back projection, felt like Nicks’s hippy-dippy signature. As the show entered its last quarter, you could be forgiven for assuming Christine McVie had left the band all over again. The set ended with “Go Your Own Way”, before the encore brought what many must have thought they’d been spared, Fleetwood’s demented-magus drum solo. “Don’t Stop” restored order, only for Nicks and Fleetwood to take the song’s message a little too literally with those closing speeches. Not that you should doubt the sentiment. This band has broken a lot of chains in its time. With the links back in place, they are a thing to behold.
Jasper Rees / The Arts Desk / Thursday, May 28, 2015