For a band whose career has been so assiduously documented, Fleetwood Mac have always had a knotty relationship with their past. Great swathes of it are essentially ignored, while the domestic dramas of four decades ago are still the pivot for Fleetwood Mac’s live shows in 2015. Last time they played in London, for instance, the narrative privileged Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks as the tragic star-crossed former lovers reunited; this time round, it’s the return of Christine McVie after a 16 year absence that provides the show with its motor. Not that you’d necessarily forget such a momentous occasion, of course: the band have a weird, almost neurotic need to constantly refer back to the narrative in hand. Tonight, for instance, we are routinely told how delighted they are that McVie is back in the fold, while it falls to McVie herself to spell out the specifics of her return to the band: “It was two years ago I stood on this very stage and played ‘Don’t Stop’…” Meanwhile, Buckingham is eager to present McVie’s return as part of “a karmic, circular moment” in the band’s evolution. “We are a group of individuals that have seen their fair share of ups and downs,” he explains to anyone who’s not been paying attention since Rumours came out. “But we’re still here! And that’s what makes us what we are. With the return of the beautiful Christine, there is no doubt that we begin a brand new, prolific and profound and beautiful chapter in the story of this band, Fleetwood Mac.”
Despite Buckingham’s warm predictions for the future, tonight’s set is typically focussed on the band’s mid-Seventies era: half specifically from Rumours. Writing in his autobiography, Play On, Fleetwood admits to a “preservationist instinct” when it comes to his band’s history. “On my farm in Maui, Hawaii,” he begins, “I have a weather-sealed barn full of memorabilia: photographs, journals, clothes, cars, endless video tapes, concert recordings, all bits of Fleetwood Mac and my life. As much as I’ve always been driven creatively to move forward toward something bigger, brighter and unknown, I’m also a deeply-rooted nostalgic.” Although Fleetwood’s archivist sensibilities may be firmly entrenched, as a live proposition, the band has a prescribed cut-off point: you might not know, for instance, that Fleetwood Mac released 10 albums before Rumours. It’s a lovely thing that Christine McVie is back in the band; but for all the harmonic brilliance of “Everywhere” and “Little Lies”, it’d be wonderful to hear “Show Me A Smile” or “Come A Little Bit Closer”. It’d be even better to get Danny Kirwan on to play “Woman Of A 1000 Days“. Alas, the demarcation line between the early line-ups and the Buckingham/Nicks era is so rigorously enforced that we’re not treated to anything released prior to “the first album in this configuration” – as McVie rather formally describes the Fleetwood Mac record.
Admittedly, it is hard to argue with the sheer brilliance of the Buckingham/Nicks/McVie line-up. But with McVie back in the band, the set-list highlights the disjunct between the band’s three writers. This is most evident on the run of songs from “Rhiannon” to “Everywhere” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong”: Nicks’ is witchy and soft-focus, McVie’s is bright and nimble while Buckingham’s is left-field and surprisingly angry. Admittedly, McVie brings a balance to the show – both in terms of opening out the set list but also the way she softens the on-stage dynamic. Outwardly, at least, she appears less eccentric than Buckingham and more grounded than Stevie Nicks. She is also thankfully brisk when introducing her songs; unlike her bandmates. Nicks, particularly, takes an age to get to “Gypsy”, by way of a lengthy story from 1968 involving Hendrix, Joplin and a San Francisco clothing store. Buckingham, meanwhile, over shares considerably with his intro to “Big Love”. He begins with an unexpected defence of Tango In The Night – “A very difficult album to make, but as a producer I am proud of the result” – before taking the scenic route round to the song’s meaning. “It was a song about someone who was not in touch,” he says, finally getting there. “It was a contemplation of alienation but is now a meditation on the power and importance of change.”
Aside from this talk of change and new chapters, there is nonetheless something telling about the name of this tour: On With The Show. It conjures up images of the band as redoubtable showbiz troopers – which in a sense, is precisely what Fleetwood Mac are these days. For all Buckingham’s talk of “ups and downs” in the band’s history, there is a reassuring sense of professionals at work tonight. He may show-off slightly, but it’s useful to be reminded what a fine player he is, especially on “Big Love”, “Landslide” and “Songbird”. Only the overwhelming oddness of “Tusk” momentarily stops the show’s warm, comfortable vibes. But even Buckingham’s quirks are permissible. Among the most conspicuous of these is the giant image of Buckingham’s head that is beamed onto screen at the rear of the stage during “I Know I’m Not Wrong” – and then, bizarrely, can be seen floating upside down on screens in front of the stage. But for all Buckingham’s idiosyncracies and Nicks’ Twilight theatrics, the heavy lifting is done by the men with their names above the door. Mick Fleetwood might enjoy a little of the thesping done by his band mates – the gong and wind chimes ensemble he brings to bear on “World Turning”, for instance – but as with John McVie there is solid workmanship underpinning the Buckingham/Nicks flamboyance. Indeed, the most unfussy players on stage tonight appear to be the former Mr and Mrs McVie. She is very much Laura Ashley mum, cheerful and polite, effortlessly delivering many of tonight’s best songs; while John McVie remains inscrutable behind his cap and waistcoat. A rarity among Fleetwood Mac, the bassist is the only member of the band to keep his views entirely to himself.
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