thu 21/09/2017

Fleetwood Mac, Wembley Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Fleetwood Mac, Wembley Arena

Fleetwood Mac, Wembley Arena

Insanely popular band abide

The current line-up: McVie, Nicks, Fleetwood, BuckinghamWarner Music

The first signs were good. I've been to a lot of shows by “heritage bands” in my time, but I don't think I've ever seen a crowd for a band of Fleetwood Mac's vintage that had such a relatively even age distribution. Sure, it was weighted towards the greying end of the scale, but every age group down to teens – including teens there in groups under their own steam, not just with parents – was well represented, right across class boundaries too.

But then Fleetwood Mac have always been a lot of things to a lot of people. From the bluesy sixties underground Peter Green era, through the spectacular Seventies pinnacles of rock-Babylon mega-success following Green's decline and departure and the arrival of sparkly-eyed Californians Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, to the shiny pure pop of their late-Eighties Tango in the Night creative swansong, they covered an awful lot of ground (all documented in the recent BBC documentary Don't Stop). Everyone was hoping their setlist might suit their own tastes – in my case the Tango In The Night songs of my schooldays. Sadly they did not play this.

On stage, the band managed the extraordinarily impressive feat for such a repeatedly split-and-reformed act of actually looking like a band. Other than the lack of Christine McVie, who has seemingly permanently retired from live performance, this was the classic seventies/eighties lineup of Nicks and Buckingham out front and the founder-members' British rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (the original “Fleetwood” and “Mac”) on drums and bass behind them – plus backing vocalists and two session musician multi-instrumentalists in the wings.

Fleetwood and McVie looked rather like a multimillionaire Chas & Dave with their matching flat caps, waistcoats and beards, while Buckingham had the air of an over-dressed pervy music teacher and Nicks of a wonderfully batty goth aunt, complete with one black glove, tinsel hanging from her sleeves and a mic stand draped with witchy decorations. But somehow, among the arena lightshow and moving set decorations, despite all the history, they still looked like their relationship was musical.

And it is. From the swagger of “The Chain” (from the quintillion-selling Rumours) onward it was clear this is more than just some ageing drug casualties propped up by technology and extra staff. The 12-string guitar jangle of Tusk's “I Know I'm Not Wrong” showed how much Fleetwood Mac's work prefigured the whole of eighties alternative rock as well as the mainstream – making them the missing link between The Byrds and The Cult. “Second Hand News” was a mighty country-rock stomp, showing precisely how much the band were always connected to heartland America. And “Rhiannon” and “Sara” showed how much Nicks's voice was born to age gracefully, it's catches and cracks only made more affecting by age's emphasis.

Nicks, in fact, despite what could in a lesser performer have been annoyingly kooky affectations, held the whole first half of the show together. Where Buckingham's between-songs addresses to the audience seemed horrendously worthy, full of Californian therapy talk about “shared appreciation” and “how important it is to just have fun”, her chat was insouciant, sincere, ditzy, and her memories of late-Sixties San Fransisco before they played “Gypsy” entirely absorbing. If it hadn't been for her the first half of the set could have felt like the best dads-down-the-pub-on-a-Sunday-blues band in the world.

Buckingham had his moment, though. Just as we began to find his therapy-speak self-indulgence too much, he played solo the most astonishing acoustic version of Tango in the Night's “Big Love” and we were won over entirely. He is the kind of performer who will never, ever be cool like Nicks – despite having reached the pinnacle of everything that should be groovy, he will always be trying that bit too hard – but his musicianship was able to overcome that.

And it was his musical direction that dominated Fleetwood Mac's golden age, and thus this set, bringing in a fantastic diversity of influences to the show. The baroque counterpoint of his solo acoustic guitar tracks, the Appalachian gospel harmonies of an absolutely stunning “Storms”, the way he made the riffs in the verses of “Gold Dust Woman” sound like The Stooges, and most crucially to the Fleetwood Mac we all know and love, his sparklingly rich arrangements – all showed a truly brilliant musical intelligence still at work. It's just a shame he didn't seem able to realise that people appreciated him for his music rather than for his attempts to be cool: his stagecraft, constantly reaching out to the crowd for the affirmation of their hungry touch and frotting his guitar in a creepily quasi-sexual way, was as desperately needy as Nicks's was coolly inviting.



No matter though: Nicks and Buckingham were both brilliant, their faults only emphasising the other's strengths. It's just a shame about their rhythm section. If it weren't for the obvious bolstering sense of band history from having the four of them on stage together that stimulated Nicks and Buckingham to perform so well, Fleetwood and McVie's musical contribution would have been nothing that hired hands couldn't have provided.  Whether being dragged up front to play on a tiny drumkit – like a 6'9” bear on a tricycle – or playing a grand finale drum solo of staggering tedium, Fleetwood was like a session drummer with bolted-on overprivileged annoying-old-hippie mannerisms, and McVie was just an absence.  They reminded us that while the band may have many things, including melodic and harmonic skills to match anyone in pop, the one thing they never had in abundance was groove.

Fleetwood's hideous, grunting, would-be-shamanic solo (so invasive and overlong that my wife stormed out into the lobby, snapping “text me when they play a song"), the massive cluster of self-congratulation that ended the main set, and the dreary stomp of “Don't Stop” (a song so blandly motivational Bill Clinton used it in his 1992 campaign) in the encore could have ruined the whole show. So could the lack of any Tango in the Night songs other than “Big Love” (presumably because so many of them were written or co-written by the absent Christine McVie). So it's a measure of precisely how powerful Fleetwood Mac are as a collective entity – as a band - that they managed to leave us remembering stunning moments from a set full of great grown up musical thrills rather than those clunky and immature rockstar indulgences.

Comments

this was nice...

100% agree with the drum section by mr fleetwood. It was as if some giant simpleton had been pushed onto the stage. His frankly incomprehensible shouts while banging the jungle drums were... Odd. But big love, tusk and gold dust women were simply awesome. Sometimes a 'big' group can be a let down when appearing live, but these guys were everything i hoped. The venue suited them also, more intimate than the O2 and allowing for much more connection with the audience.

Didn't really know what to expect from this concert but I have to admit it was pretty impressive. I also agree about the "Uncle Albert" drummer solo - the crowd were not sure what to shout which was quite funny. But these aged rockers still had a spark and it was well worth the money. Better then a ticket to X Factor.

Passionate is the first word that sprang to mind. Teetering on the brink of sanity was my next thought. But great songs, superb musicianship particularly from Lindsay Buckingham and a still so distinctive voice from Stephanie Nicks, as her bandleader introduced her at the end. A previous review had referred to Fleetwood and Mac as looking like millionaire versions of Chas & Dave. But it's a long way from The Bo Street Runners and as Mick announced he is grateful to us not to be stuck at home bored. An amazing achievement given the original band should have faded away after Peter Green's disaster. Lindsay Buckingham's brilliant performance of Oh Well was a reminder of their former existence, possibly news to many. They were as fresh as ever, amazing considering their first comeback was for Bill Clinton's Inauguration. I would have liked Say You Will or Peacekeeper off their last album, but you can't have it all.

If you are going to review a band with such a infamous musical history, at least try to get the names of the songs right! 'rihannon' = Rhiannon 'sarah' = Sara [named for Sara Recor] 'gypsies' = Gypsy

Would that be like the wife near us who stomped out because people in the front were standing. Sigh. Play a tune! Its not X factor, it was incredible and Big love more than made up for any other track on Tango. What on earth were you watching - Landslide was utterly moving. As for "session musicians" did you not stay for Fleetwoods band intros at the end (no tune there either)...these are the guys that play with them all the time. Or was it Stevies sister in law and regular backing singers that confused you. Drum solo, bizarre and totally Fleetwood. and those that knew ...knew exactly what to shout back. Old hippie manerisms...yeah, I guess thats what us old hippies have then. You must be right, yawn. One of the all time greatest Basslines that NOT everyone can play (lets face it, session guys could have stood in for RIngo, or ROnnie Wood, if you're gonna be that picky, no doubt steve winwood and clapton should hand over to some nice indie wannabees now as well ). Talking of picks, there was Buckingham's outstanding plectrumless perfection. Stevie, a goddess. To say she held it together - what were you expecting, she is the soul. And those are her trademark "affectations". Why did you even bother going....heritage band indeed. As they said England... made the blues and rock great.... And not with an army of so called indie, soundalike bands. this was a masterclass in old school rock passion. No dat machine, no dancers and earpieces. Raw brilliance and connection. Perhaps Cheryl Cole or Whitney Elizabeth or RObbie, with a "few tunes" would be more to taste for your next outing - something with a bit of lip synching, glitter and production overkill and no grey haired (hawaii living) old rock hippies to spoil your night.

Thankyou Silver, I hang my head in shame at those typos (now corrected), they are unforgivable and I can only claim sleep deprivation and filing review first thing in the a.m. as an excuse. L Collins, I am very glad you enjoyed it so much and thank you very much for your alternate view. As I say, I enjoyed it immensely and it was a privilege to see the show, but I clearly have different musical preferences to you. Vive le difference!

Sadly, most of these comments were positive. I have only ever walked out of one major gig in my life... and it was this one. Whatever makes any self respecting band as good as FM play in the hell hole I shall never know. Over £200 for tickets booking fee, rail, Becks and hot dogs only to be ruined by the acoustics and sound engineering... I described it at the time and still do as a most disapointing concert... it sounded like people screaming their heads off, accomanied by a constant clap of thunder whilst they banged saucepans against an over revving sherman tank! Common Mick et al... do yourselves a favour, play good music elsewhere and don't talk so much.

I'm sorry but Mick Fleetwood and John Macvie are possibly the best rhythm section in possibly the best band ever. I am only 15 yet I have seen the Chili Peppers, The Zombies, The Yardbirds, B.B KIng, John Mayall even the Who and in comparrison I reckon that Fleetwood Mac have been the best. They put on an incredible and believeable performance and I think it's very shallow for people like you to sit there and dig holes in what was actually an absolutley mind blowing gig. Lindsey Buckingham is hugely under-rated and for him to play as incredibly as he did in his 60's is unbelieveable. I would like to see any of you playing like that in your 60's after a difficult relationship with your band. Please don't put down what was for me the best live performance of my life.

Dave... I entirely agree with you... I am in my 60's and I've seen all those groups you refer to, and a great many more. My guitar skills don't match what I would like to be able to achieve but... please note my comments are not aimed at FM who you rightly praise, but at an abysmal venue that did not do justice to such a great band.

For the wife who walked out on the night. I was in the front row and just before the gig started their tour manager or such like came from backsatage to talk to us and asked us if we would please stand at the front because the band liked it that way. So we did. Excellent gig. They are all integral to the sound and feel of the band I believe and so no-one's contribution should be devalued. I wasn't a great fan of the drum solo but what do I know? Last time I saw them was without Lyndsey and this was just so so much better and right.

Just have to add my thoughts - four of us near the front of Block B on the rhs for the Friday 6th Novemebr gig. All four of us have FM vinyl dating back to the Peter Green (GOD!) era and updates on CD so we can be classified as "old rockers" too". Therein lies the rub - those new to FM have no idea about Mick's repartee with the audience, nor indeed the significance of the penguin. The concert was superb but the venue of Wembley Arena was not a good choice - acoustically poor: Lyndsey's vocals especially at the start were distorted and the volume so high, my auditory nerves are still in shock so have to agree with Rupert - and "TheatreMonkey.com" (have a look at what it says about W/Arena!). I can only hope that Chrissie Mcvie who was sitting in the VIP section was not disappointed - shame she didn't appear on stage at the very least for the applause. Mick was, as always, brilliant on percussion (I say this as a mad drummer myself); John is just John - no spotlight wanted but a big part of what drives along a lot of the music; Stevie floated about and owned the stage whereas Lyndsey (naturally) fronted the gig - Big Love a BIG example of his technical abilities. I only saw two people exit early - she was very obviously pregnant and he was pale to say the least - what price being born at a FM concert I wonder? To sum up - a brilliant band, sublime Stevie, mad Mick, simply John and maestro Lyndsey - let down by the poor acoustics of the venue. We loved it - see you "next time" FM (but not at Wembley Arena!)

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