Many decades ago the steady throbbing beat of “Hypnotized” played in a loop in my brain during swim team practice. I knew the British blues band Fleetwood Mac from their mesmerizing instrumental “Albatross” and always thought that their lead singer was performing in a low ceilinged club for “Oh Well.” I would rattle the cages of anyone I cared about, encouraging them to check out recent albums like Bare Trees and Heroes Are Hard to Find. On the latter, the fluid guitar work of Bob Welch, coupled with the steady engine room of founding members John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, was rounded our with Christine McVie’s crystalline vocals and keyboards.
And then on the mid 70s Fleetwood Mac were finally performing near me, a college gig opening for Return to Forever. Fleetwood Mac had just released an eponymous album with an American couple, whose only album was quite good (also eponymously titled – Buckingham Nicks – and still yet to be released digitally). The band reworked at least one song from that album (“Crystal”), and the result was a Fleetwood Mac album that suddenly everyone liked. The America duo’s exposure to Fleetwood Mac is like a fairytale: drummer Fleetwood was checking out the acoustics of Sound City in the San Fernando Valley and the duo’s album was randomly grabbed as a sonic guinea pig.
The band now numbered five, two Americans and three Brits. Their Fleetwood Mac album exploded.
Rather quickly Fleetwood Mac was everyone’s band. I was happy and sad at the same time; this cool band that no one knew was suddenly filling the airwaves and stadia across the land. The 1975 album went five times platinum. Two years later they released Rumours, which went twenty times platinum.
I was faced with a conundrum: could I like a band that was so popular? The songs were so ubiquitous I could not discern their true quality. And then a couple years later came the third blow to my head when their double disc Tusk was released, which seemed like The Beatles white album – all over the place and still sorta cool.
I found solace in an obscure non-album B-side called “Silver Springs.” That was my song because it was great and no one heard it. Plus which, it was inspired by a town in Maryland, close to where I was born. The song has been pulled from obscurity and I love hearing it in concert.
The record label on those vinyl releases showed gorgeous palm trees, it was practically a Warner Brothers trademark. As I look back now, it was a magnet for me.
But I fell away from the band as they grew bigger. I observed from a distance the subsequent albums, nodded somewhat appreciatively when I heard the hit singles and was curious with some odd personnel changes through the 80s and 90s. The band went through a soap opera of intra-band swapping of bedmates, too much drugs and at least one bankruptcy.
I saw a couple Lindsay Buckingham solo shows, and was duly impressed with his guitar pyrotechnics and solo albums. He called those solo tours his ‘little machine,’ which was in stark contrast to the ‘big machine’ of Fleetwood Mac’s mammoth tour enterprises.
Nicks’ work with Tom Petty was also too popular; I remained a snob. I did appreciate Christine McVie’s little-noticed 1984 solo album (yet again, an eponymous album).
Then the ‘big three’ Fleetwood Mac albums were reissued about seven years ago. I had not touched the albums in decades. Across the years I had lost touch with how simply brilliant these songs remain. With three singers, three songwriters, two women and three men they managed to rock brilliantly (“Go Your Own Way”) and pull heartstrings effectively (“Landslide”).
Seeing them live is truly a monument to longevity and talent.
At Viejas Arena in San Diego, they assayed the prime time of their career, drawing mostly from the big three albums released during the band’s magic years of 1975-1979. Nicks’ voice has understandably narrowed in range, but she did push and hit the high notes in “Gypsy.” Christine McVie’s keyboard work and effortless vocals were glorious. The rhythm section, one of the longest lasting in rock, was a steady and propulsive metronome anchoring the band.
But it was Buckingham’s blazing guitar work that was the most mesmerizing. Of the two dozen songs over the course of the 2+ hours, he was a consistent and commanding presence onstage. Other band members occasionally floated offstage, but not Buckingham (at least not until Fleetwood wailed through his customarily loony drum solo). When Buckingham uncorks his guitar solo in the latter half of “Go Your Own Way” I would be happy if the song stretched for twice its length. He stamps his feet, storms back and forth across the stage and generally acts like a possessed kid for many of the louder songs. It all works, and I wonder if Fleetwood purposely emphasizes the last syllable when he introduces “our musical mentor Lindsey Buck-ing-HAM.”
I have overcome my snobbery; I am very glad this band that no one seemed to know when I first heard them is now commanding top dollar and deserving every penny filling venues on their latest tour.