As the much-heralded reunion tour with essential member Christine McVie wrapped to a close—or nearly so, as the BB&T Center performance marked the 39th of 40 concert dates this year—there was clearly a sense that this long-awaited return was a major event in every sense of the word.
Not that it wouldn’t be anyway; after some 48 years, scores of massive selling albums and a reputation as rock’s most notorious traveling soap opera due to the band’s famously incestuous relationships, Fleetwood Mac’s continuing popularity is testimony to both their longevity and durability. In most cases that would be enough in itself to draw a sell-out crowd, but the fact that they still sound remarkable—some might say they sound better than ever—makes their show one for the ages. That was never more evident than in the nearly three-hour performance they put on in Fort Lauderdale, a concert that was clearly among the best this particular scribe has ever seen.
Much was made of the fact that Christine McVie’s return to the fold after an absence of 15 years was a remarkable feat in itself. “She’s back!” Stevie Nicks noted at the outset, a feeling of euphoria that Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood echoed at various points throughout the 24-song set, one packed with hits, fan favorites and even the occasional rarity. Indeed, it was well worth noting that at age 71, McVie looks at least 20 years younger and her rich, riveting vocals show no sign of diminishing returns.
In truth, the same could be said of each member of this tireless ensemble. Nicks retains her trademark quiver, her top hat and granny dresses, and a mystic fairy queen sensibility…not to mention the ability to literally spin in circles whenever the occasion called for it. Buckingham, at age 65, shows the dexterity of someone half his age, whether he’s goose-stepping across the stage, adopting a reliable rock star posture or proving yet again that despite the competition from predecessors like Peter Green or Jeremy Spencer, he remains one of the most nimble guitarists Mac has ever had. Fleetwood himself is far from a figurehead, a remarkable timekeeper whose tasteful flourishes, commanding rhythms and role as the band’s eternal cheerleader often finds him taking center stage—in a semi-unplugged interlude, a breathless drum solo and his heartfelt and humbling remarks as the concert came to a close. As for that other individual name-checked in the band’s handle, suffice it to say he played the role of the stoic bass player to a tee, yet his apparent lack of an onstage persona and reticence to join the others in sharing the kudos and commentary offered the impression he was basically along for the ride.
Likewise, it’s a remarkable thing that even now, their voices and harmonies are as vibrant as they were in the beginning. While many veteran bands need an army of support players to effectively convey their classic melodies, the Macs bring along a relatively sparse support team consisting of two extra musicians on guitar and occasional keyboards and three subtle backing singers to occasionally flesh out the vocals. That leaves the main players to do the heavy lifting, a task they accomplish exceedingly well. Buckingham’s fretwork, as previously mentioned, is nothing short of astonishing, and on songs such as “World Turning,” “Never Going Back” and the lovely “Landslide,” one of the concert’s most fragile interludes and one of its best, he demonstrated a remarkable dexterity that deserves all the kudos the critics have given. As Fleetwood noted during the band introductions, Buckingham’s the one member of the group that literally never leaves the stage.
As for the songs themselves, it’s the big band numbers that elicit the most enthusiastic response, and rightfully so. Opening number “The Chain,” perhaps an unintentional homage to the group’s continuing trajectory, was greeted was a rapturous response, as was the well-heeled, more familiar fare like “Second Hand News,” “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me” and, natch, the irrepressible “Go Your Own Way.” It’s obvious that those who refer to them as the quintessential soft rock band are way off the mark. This group rocks hard, with a drive and determination that rivals any of their venerable contemporaries. Add to that an amazing array of back projected images, ranging from magnified views of the band, to scenes that looked as if they were lifted from The Hobbit to spectacular hallucinatory light displays, and this is a concert that goes well beyond expectations.
The other element that made this show so special was the fact that the individual members—bassist McVie excluded—took time to expound on the band’s contentious history and complicated interpersonal relationships. Likewise, their affection for the audience is clear. Noting a sign that said its holder had just had a stroke and that being at the concert was on his bucket list, Nicks not only dedicated a song to him, but repeatedly assured him that he would be just fine. It was a kind gesture indeed. So too, Nicks’ and Fleetwood’s concluding homage to the fans and expressions of appreciation for their devotion throughout the years made that final send-off especially touching. While the song “Don’t Stop” implores its listeners, “don’t you look back,” it’s all but impossible not to feel the love that makes that exhortation all but impossible to abide by.
– Lee Zimmerman