Fleetwood Mac's nervous pop-rock
by Seth Rogovoy

(ALBANY, N.Y., May 22, 2003) – It’s hard to believe that the bundle of tightly-wound anxiety on stage at the Pepsi Arena on Wednesday night was once the biggest pop band in the world. But then you remember that lead singer-songwriter and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, who ruled the stage like he owned the band for most of the night, once issued a solo album called “Go Insane.” From the looks of it, he did, and therein lay some of the charm and most of the frustration with a concert that had a few nostalgic peaks but many depressing and disturbing valleys.

This year’s model of Fleetwood Mac boasts four-fifths of the mid- to late-‘70s lineup that ruled the pop charts with its singular brand of moody, mystical pop music. The spoilsport this time out was singer-keyboardist Christine McVie, and her sunny, sultry presence was missed. In its place you had the psychodrama – or what little of it there actually was – of watching former lovers Stevie Nicks and Buckingham do what they could to connect while keeping each other at more of an arm’s length. Any time Buckingham came close, literally or figuratively, Nicks seemed to turn her back or brush him away.

For musicians who have been performing separately and together for well over a quarter-century, they put together a pretty poorly paced show. They got off to a momentous start with a tightly wound version of “The Chain” -- with its line, “you can never break the chain,” as apt a motto for the ties that bind these tormented souls as any.

Things were rocky from there on in. On her showpieces, Stevie Nicks did what she could with what’s left of her distinctive voice, now limited to a deep, five-note alto. She artfully kept within her range on songs including “Dreams” and “Rhiannon,” favoring her low, rich notes, and she did her signature spins at the end of her solo hit, “Stand Back,” which was given a driving, throbbing disco arrangement that nearly overwhelmed her vocals.

But for the most part, and for better or worse, this was the Lindsey Buckingham show. Rarely has a frontman seemed more intensely fired up to perform while also being intensely uncomfortable to the point of anguish. It made for some energetic, touching moments, including the band’s new single, “Peacekeeper,” a bit of vintage, harmony-laden pop with a political protest theme, and for a bit of theater on “Tusk,” a full-fledged, miniature rock symphony. But it also injected a modicum of nasty bitterness on his more darkly aggressive numbers that bordered on death-metal and seemed highly self-indulgent and out of place in a concert whose appeal was almost totally based on nostalgia.

The only performer who seemed to be enjoying himself was drummer Mick Fleetwood, whose childlike glee belied his 56-year-old grizzled visage, balding on top with long pony tail hanging down in the back. Bassist John McVie kept in the shadows, but provided a few key, John Entwistle-inspired riffs when necessary. The group was supplemented by half a dozen anonymous musicians and singers.

With a long, dark stretch leading up to the end, the show really didn’t kick into high gear until Nicks’s “Stand Back,” followed up by Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way,” which brought down the curtain just as things were starting to get good. Back for a quick encore, the band resurrected the Clinton-Gore campaign theme song, “Don’t Stop,” following Fleetwood’s trademark body-percussion solo.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 23, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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