Thursday, February 26, 2009
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 1975, British blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac, already troubled with legal battles and internal breakups, went into the free-agent market and hired on the attractive young L.A. singer-songwriter duo of Buckingham Nicks. The result: one of the greatest hit machines and perhaps the greatest running soap opera in pop music history.
Forget "Behind the Music." When you have two sets of ex-lovers on stage, it's the stuff of a miniseries.
Thirty-four years later, as Fleetwood Mac prepares for the "Unleashed" greatest hits tour, you get the feeling maybe they should keep a good group therapist, perhaps that guy who helped Metallica, on the speed dial.
Fleetwood Mac, from left: John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac.
Not even a minute into an interview with Lindsey Buckingham, the volatile singer-guitarist is referring to things that "maybe got left hanging" and the tour being as exciting "as much on a personal level as anything else."
"Personal level" has little to do with how anyone gets along with the jovial chaps who hold down the rhythm section -- founding Brits Mick Fleetwood and John McVie -- and everything to do with the harmony between Buckingham and former flame and quintessential pop diva Stevie Nicks.
It will all begin at the Mellon Arena, where Fleetwood Mac makes its home for several days of rehearsal this week before the 15-city tour begins there on Sunday.
Go Your Own Way
"Unleashed" is the first reunion of Fleetwood Mac since the band finished the marathon "Say You Will" tour in 2004. After that run, the band members sat down for a meeting in which, according to Buckingham, "I sort of said very methodically to the group, 'Don't come knocking on my door for X amount of time' with the intention of doing two solo albums in relatively short order and touring behind them."
Nicks, in a separate phone interview, notes that Buckingham said, " 'I need two to three years.' And for me that's fine, 'cause I have a whole 'nother world that keeps right on going with or without Fleetwood Mac." She can go play "Edge of Seventeen" anywhere. "But the rest of the people in Fleetwood Mac really don't. So for them that's like big. Like, 'HOW many years?' It was kind of a thing where we had to sit and go, 'OK, he needs to do this.' "
Buckingham squeezed out two solo albums, his first since 1992's "Out of the Cradle" (released after he quit Fleetwood Mac in '87). The first one, 2006's "Under the Skin," was a big departure from the band with delicate fingerpicking, whispered vocals and hazy melodies that had been left too long in the sun.
"No lead, really, no bass or drums, and it was really about one or two guitars being the basis for a whole track," Buckingham says.
"Gift of Screws," which came out in September, rocked a lot more and included songs like "Love Runs Deeper" that could very well have been Fleetwood Mac hits. Fleetwood and McVie even played on the album.
"People will say, 'What constitutes a band song vs. a solo song?' " Buckingham says, "and I always say part of it is just what you're doing at the time. If you're involved in a band thing, then the material will shape itself into being band material or possibility the group mentality will be what the group is receptive to. Having said that, I was more into doing some approaches that were more particular to me as a solo artist."
Of course, it's worth noting that Fleetwood Mac wasn't exactly risk-averse, "Tusk" -- with the USC Trojan marching band tromping through -- being the living proof.
"Yeah, we did [experiment]," Buckingham says. "Not always at everyone's comfort level. In the wake of 'Rumours,' I guess I was the culprit behind 'Tusk.' That was a big experiment, which proved itself to be successful years later. I think at the time there was a bit of a backlash from the record company and certainly from the band. We've done our share of chance-taking. You find yourself in a situation that can only be described as a 'big machine.' Once you have a level of commercial success, you have a lot of forces out there that want you to repeat those formulas for not necessarily the right reasons -- only for the reasons of generating income -- and if you forget who you are, you can certainly paint yourself into a corner over a period of time and have nowhere to go creatively. And you have to kind of reject all of that and try to listen to your inner voice as much as possible and follow it whenever you can. So I've done a pretty job of navigating that line. It's been a little convoluted, but ... still here!"
Buckingham says when the "big machine" came calling last month, he still wanted to put the finishing touches on the solo work with another leg of "Gift of Screws" shows. "It was a little hard to let go of because, obviously, the whole solo thing is more a labor of love in its own way."
Buckingham's solo venture leaves Fleetwood Mac no choice but to embark on a greatest hits tour, but the foursome is putting the best possible face on it, making it sound as if it's what they always wanted to do.
"It's exciting to us," Nicks says, "because we're not trying to shove new songs down people's throats. As much as we love new material, every time you do a new tour you can only do two or three new songs, because the audience is out there going, 'You know what, we're delighted that you're still writing, but you can't be taking out our favorite songs to put in your favorite new songs.' And this is something we learned a long time ago. This time we're not doing any new stuff. We're doing 'Stand Back' and Lindsey's doing one of his songs -- that's really the only things coming out from our solo work. When you look at the set, it's jam packed. It's two hours and 20 minutes and it's starting in 1975 and just working all the way up."
Buckingham says you could make a case for some of the songs on his solo records being ripe for a Fleetwood Mac workout on stage, but that he's aware of the politics of such lobbying. Pointing to the "Say You Will" tour, the first without Christine McVie, he says, "I had that much more room to be a guy up on stage, just to be who I am. And we were reflecting portions of ['Say You Will'], which had quite a bit of edge to it in places. I think we came off that tour with Stevie feeling quite uncomfortable with what that was. I think there was talk then about the next time we went out we needed to just play more of the body of work. So I haven't brought up any songs from solo work to do and, quite honestly, those albums, I think, are not something anyone else in the band has listened to."
Really?! They haven't heard his solo records?
"You'd be surprised," he says.
The other woman
The rumor circulating early last year was that the next time Fleetwood Mac hit the road, holding down the Christine McVie slot would be none other than Sheryl Crow, who helped produce Nicks' last solo album, 2001's "Trouble in Shangri-La."
Obviously, that would have turned the Fleetwood Mac dynamic somewhat upside-down, but in the end, it wasn't meant to be. Crow had to miss a Fleetwood Mac studio session, due, quite symbolically, to a Mother's Day affair and told the band she would have to pass.
Says Nicks, "I gave Sheryl a long lecture and said, 'Listen, honey, you just adopted a new baby, you just came through breast cancer, you survived Lance Armstrong, to come into Fleetwood Mac right now where we are going on a tour that could go on for a 135 shows. ... You can't say I need a month off with my baby, because you're not going to get it, because nobody gets time off in Fleetwood Mac. Once you're in the Mac, it's like being in the army ...' So I said to her, 'As Stevie Nicks, who loves to sing with you, I would say I'd be very disappointed. But as your friend, you're making the right decision.' She passed on Fleetwood Mac. Everybody thinks we passed on her."
Christine McVie, who was married to John McVie from 1968 to 1976, remains a much tougher loss for the band, her having written and sung -- in a pure, beautiful voice -- such hits as "Over My Head," "Don't Stop," "You Make Loving Fun" and "Say You Love Me." The 65-year-old British singer hasn't worked with Mac since the reunion for "The Dance" in 1997 and the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction a year later.
"We never wanted Christine to leave," Nicks says. "We wanted Christine to change her mind. But what happened was, Christine had been keeping big secrets from us all the many years. She was afraid to fly. Because she's such a tough old bird, she never let us know. And she was having panic attacks about it. She was really having a hard time with the traveling, and they say when people get older, you get more claustrophobic and more sensitive, and I think you really do. And so it hit Chris, and she was like, 'I don't want to do it anymore.' And it's not that she didn't want to come on stage, not that she didn't want to do music anymore. She just didn't want to tour."
Fleetwood Mac has three backup singers to help with the high harmonies -- and Buckingham and Nicks are already a vocal powerhouse themselves -- but Stevie says there are intangibles Christine McVie brought to the group that can't be replaced.
"The horrible thing, which breaks our heart, is just Christine herself. Her personality, her crazy English self. She was a buffer between all of us. She was definitely a buffer between me and Lindsey, and she would be the one to say -- [imitating a chirpy British accent] 'You guys are all being stupid!' She'd be like 'Break it up, break it up!' "
By all accounts, there are times in Fleetwood Mac when a buffer is needed between Buckingham and Nicks, who were romantically entangled from 1972 until the tumultuous making of "Rumours" four years later.
"Lindsey and me are the problem children," Nicks says.
But the relationship has changed a lot in the past 10 years, with Buckingham becoming husband to photographer Kristen Messner and dad to their three children: a 10-year-old boy, and girls 8 and 4.
"He lives in girl land now," Nicks says. "He lives in ballet land and girls basketball team land, very girly, so how could you not soften up when you're surrounded by women? And when you have two little girls you also have two little girls and all their friends. So he's been in that world for the last four years. And it has softened him, and instead of treating me like his miserable ex-girlfriend, he's treating me more like a difficult but loved daughter. And I like it just fine, because he is softer and much more understanding of me and what I do. And he doesn't get mad at me. I yell out something and he lets it go. He's more the Lindsey he was when I first met him. So it's delightful for me because I'm kind of getting to see the man I cared about so much all those many years ago again almost come back."
And he's not throwing guitars at her, as he famously did on stage once.
"He's not throwing anything at me," Nicks says, with a laugh. "And it's almost like it would be ridiculous, you know what I mean? We are 59 and 60. We were 16 and 17 when we met. We have both looked at each other the last couple months when we've been talking about this, going, 'We met each other when we were 16 and 17, we need to make peace before we die.' "
Asked whether he's softened with fatherhood, Buckingham concedes.
"I think that's probably true. During the time Fleetwood Mac was making albums and after Stevie and I had broken up, and I was still having to produce for her, and make hits for her, we never had gotten any closure. We just had to kind of seal everything off; everyone was living in their own states of denial. Not only had there not been closure, but there hadn't been a lot of fairness in the way things worked out, nor had there been a lot of honesty. And so I'm certain that having children and getting to that point, I don't feel so embattled in my life in general. These things, they just happen in their own time."
So when they get up on stage Sunday night and do a song like "Go Your Own Way," is it a good deal less emotionally charged than it would have been 30 years ago?
"I think that we've done them so many times," Buckingham says. "Even when we were writing these songs, they didn't necessarily feel as personal or autobiographical I guess as they ended up appearing to be. We just get up there and have a good time. It's all been said and done and scrutinized to death, really, so we just get up there and we play. And I don't think we think about it so much on an emotional level. Or I don't, anyway."
Scott Mervis can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2576.
First published on February 26, 2009 at 12:00 am
Fleetwood Mac still rockin' after all these years
Monday, March 02, 2009
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Left to right: Fleetwood Mac's John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham perform last night at Mellon Arena.
In the 1970s when you were listening to "Rhiannon" and "Dreams," you may have given a passing thought to the concept of Stevie Nicks at 60.
Now we've hit the point where we don't have to imagine anymore.
We saw her last night at the Mellon Arena on the opening show of the Unleashed tour, and we can testify that she's still the golden-haired diva, still mysterious, still bewitching, still beautiful as she sings those haunting love songs.
Her partner in crime since they were teenagers, Lindsey Buckingham, is on the brink of 60, at 59, and he's, well, he's going to be an intense dude up until the day he kicks.
The former lovers came out holding hands and then went off to their positions to dazzle with the promised greatest hits show, plus some surprises from the back catalogue, like the seldom played "Storms."
Buckingham made early mention of the band's "complex and convoluted emotional history," saying that every time they come back together "it's always different." He added that they "had a ball" during their days of rehearsal at the arena, and the evidence was on stage.
A nod to their fresh start was "Monday Morning," an unexpected opener, as it was never a staple of the "Say You Will" tour five years ago. It wasn't until the second song, "The Chain," that we got that first taste of the magical Buckingham-Nicks harmonies, two voices that were born for each other.
Nicks always had an unusual voice, husky yet delicate, strong yet vulnerable. Early in the set, on "Dreams," she clung more to the lower register, backing away from the mike on the high notes. As the set picked up energy, so did she, pouring more of herself into "Sara" and "Landslide," with that poignant little line: "I'm getting older, too." On "Gold Dust Woman," she unleashed a long, lovely wail, before turning her back to the crowd and spreading her golden shawl like wings as the song and the lights slowly faded.
Buckingham, by contrast, is a pure live wire. People who have never seen Fleetwood Mac might not know that if he hadn't ended up in this boy-girl pop band, his name now might be thrown around with guitar heroes like Neil Young and Eric Clapton. Buckingham can rip in numerous ways, from the blistering acoustic fingerpicking on "Big Love" to the nitro shredding on "I'm So Afraid," which, contrary to the image of the 50-something ballad-loving Fleetwood Mac fan, drew the biggest roar of the night.
With Nicks offstage to change shawls, or something like that, Mac reverted back to its early blues-rock form for "Oh Well," with Buckingham excitedly playing Peter Green's scorching riff. You need a good drummer for all of this and at 61, Mick Fleetwood is still beating the hell out of the skins without losing any of his pace. John McVie blends into the background with the two side musicians and three backup singers, but manages to keep up with the fiery Fleetwood and Buckingham, even on "Tusk," which had the USC marching band channeled through the keyboard player.
They churned like a powerful New Wave machine on "Stand Back," with Nicks delivering one her most edgy, teeth-clenched vocals. Then, she donned the top hat for "Go Your Own Way," complete with Buckingham playing the note-perfect solo before beating the guitar with his fists.
They encored with "World Turning," the motivational sing-along "Don't Stop" and the tender "Silver Springs," sending fans home happy that not only is the Mac back, but still in fine fighting form.
Scott Mervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.
First published on March 2, 2009 at 12:00 am
Fleetwood Mac Set List
• "Monday Morning"
• "The Chain"
• "I Know I'm Not Wrong"
• "Go Insane"
• "Second Hand News"
• "Big Love"
• "Never Going Back Again"
• "Say That You Love Me"
• "Gold Dust Woman"
• "Oh Well"
• "I'm So Afraid"
• "Stand Back"
• "Go Your Own Way"
• "World Turning"
• "Don't Stop"
• "Silver Springs"