Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fleetwood Mac

Ten years ago, right around the time that I first lost a bunch of weight and started to feel better physically, Denise and I went into the city to see Fleetwood Mac play live at Madison Square Garden. It was a great show, although at that time, Christine McVie hadn't yet rejoined the band.

They've toured since then, and I think their last tour included all five members of the band's most successful lineup -- Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood -- but I didn't see them then, preferring to spend my concert budget to see bands I hadn't seen before.

Lately, though, I've been getting nostalgic, especially about some of the older '70s bands who may never tour around these parts again. And I've been choosing to buy tickets for more of the acts that I know I love, instead of chasing after newer acts I might or might not enjoy as much.

Now last year, around the time when the news got out that Fleetwood Mac had fired Lindsey Buckingham, there was an immediate reaction. A lot of people felt like they needed to take sides. In particular, some of what I call the "Grumpy Old Men" on YouTube were very critical of the move, in some cases advocating against people buying tickets to see Fleetwood Mac and hinting that the absence of Buckingham somehow made the band illegitimate. I followed the story, and the reactions, at the time, without really knowing how I felt about it. The band was even mocked to a certain degree when they announced the additions of Neil Finn (of Crowded House and Split Enz) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), with people pointing out that it took two men to replace Buckingham.

Here's the deal, though. I know that Buckingham is usually given credit for being the person who arranged all of the classic-period Fleetwood Mac material, and I have no doubt that that's true. He's also considered an underrated guitarist, which I'm not sure of, but I won't argue about. However, for my tastes, I've always considered Buckingham FM's third best songwriter, with Christine McVie coming in second and Stevie Nicks far-and-away the best. (You'll note that she's the only member of the band who has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.) So for me, the absence of Buckingham was far from being a deal breaker. 

When the new lineup started going out and playing the talk shows to promote the new tour, again, there was a lot of criticism, saying they were tentative, lackluster, etc. I saw some of those clips, and didn't see a problem, especially given that the lineup was brand new together, and it usually takes a little bit of touring before a band begins to gel.

But as the new Fleetwood Mac started to tour, I found that I was kind of intrigued by the possibilities of the new lineup. And after their first few shows, I looked up their setlist on, and I liked what I saw. I loved that their setlist for the tour included "Black Magic Woman", which few people realize was written by Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac, and not by Carlos Santana (although Santana's version will always be the classic one). And I liked the inclusion of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" and Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" in deference to Finn and Campbell. So, somewhat to my surprise, I decided I really wanted to see this tour.

When I first saw the ticket prices for the Madison Square Garden show, I wavered a little. Then I noticed that the band was doing a show in Atlantic City, and that the prices were lower. I knew I could always convince Denise to go for an overnight in Atlantic City, so I decided to buy tickets there. Unfortunately, by the time I came up with the money, there weren't really great seats (i.e., aisle seats) left for sale, so I had to pass. But by this time, I was emotionally in. So I wound up biting the bullet and buying a pair of seats to see them at the Garden.

Now if I knew what fate had lined up, I might have made a different choice. There's a huge project I've been working at on my job, which I've kind of been making myself sick over. It involved getting our agency recertified in a given state. And I found out a few weeks ago that, much to my horror, that state's auditors were coming to do the audit on the same day as the Fleetwood Mac concert.

Unfortunately, these days, going into the city for a concert just knocks the hell out of me. I have a certain amount of anxiety leading up to it, and it physically wears me out to the point where I'm all but useless the day after. On the day of a concert, I like to take a very light day, and nap in the afternoon if I can. But with the auditors coming in, this wasn't going to be possible. I was going to have to go into the office early (most days, I'm able to work from home), and to meet Denise somewhere afterwards. If I had known the audit was going to be that day, I probably wouldn't have bought the tickets. (Or, since Fleetwood Mac is coming back to MSG next Monday the 18th, I would have bought tickets to that show instead.) However, it was too late now to do anything but suck it up.

I didn't sleep well Sunday. It wasn't so much the audit per se -- most of my work for the recertification had been completed during the previous week, and I wasn't expecting any problems. It was more the knowledge of what a long and tiring day it was going to be.

Monday morning, I was up earlier than scheduled. (Actually, I went to bed at midnight, woke up and did some work at 4AM, went back to bed at 6, and slept fitfully for two more hours.) I headed into Melville for the audit, which went pretty much as I had expected. However, by the time the auditors were done (at about 3PM), I was already exhausted.

I made the best plan I could, which involved meeting Denise and her mother's house in Williston Park. This would give me the chance to get there early and catch a nap for two hours before we headed over to Mineola for a 6:45 train. And it was a good thing I did, or I would have been sleeping through the concert.

We caught the train into Penn Station and worked our way upstairs into the Garden with no problem. When we found our way to our seats, we found that they were located in the upper deck facing the left side of the stage. Unfortunately, the seats themselves were quite tight, much tighter than the seats my son and I had had two weeks prior for the Three Days Grace show. And because of the price of the tickets, this was one show I hadn't bought an extra ticket for. We weren't too bad when we first sat down, and I at least had my usual aisle on one side. But I could tell that as soon as someone claimed the seats to Denise's left, she was going to be squashed and miserable.

After a few minutes, I asked her if she thought I should talk to the usher about the situation. She was noncommittal, so I decided to just do it. He sent me over to a customer service stand half an arena away. I worked my way through the crowd, which was really starting to fill out, and found the booth. After explaining my problem, the gentleman said that the only thing he could do was put us in some pull-out seats in the handicapped area. I agreed to this, and went back to get Denise.

We soon found ourselves in the second row of the handicapped area, which was all the way at the back of the stadium, directly facing the stage. The location was worse than where we had been earlier in terms of seeing the stage. The seats, however, were much more comfortable. They were cushioned pullout seats pushed up to a table/counter on which we could rest our drinks. Behind us was a curtain, which the usher drew as soon as we were seated. I think this was for the benefit of the performers, who would have blackness when they looked in front of them instead of the bright lights of the concession area behind us. We now settled in for the show.

The show was listed as starting at 8PM. There was no opening act, however, so the band took their time working their way to the stage. Finally, at a little after 8:20, the lights went down, and Fleetwood Mac stepped out, to the delight of the capacity crowd. (I can't emphasize enough how packed the house was. A couple of the Grumpy Old Men had indicated last fall that Fleetwood Mac had been having trouble selling tickets without Buckingham. That definitely wasn't the case here.)

They opened with "The Chain", which saw the full band in action. There was a big screen behind the band, and a smaller screen up high next to each side of the stage. At the beginning, the screen was split six ways, one camera focusing on each of the six band members. I was eventually able to work out that they were functioning as an 11-piece band, with two female backup vocalists, an excellent second drummer, a second keyboard player, and an extra guitar player. (This took awhile to do, as different band members entered and left the stage for different songs. And John McVie, who must be a very retiring type of person, seemed to be in the witness protection program all night. It took halfway through the show for my weak eyes to locate him.)

For me, there were only two lowlights to the show. The first was that Christine McVie wasn't in her best voice. She wasn't terrible -- her voice didn't sound painful, the way Cindy Wilson's did last summer when we saw The B-52's. Rather, it sounded as though maybe she had a cold, and she wasn't able to get full power out of her voice. I don't think it's a permanent condition, because I've seen some YouTube videos from the current tour where she sounded fine. But for last night, she wasn't at the top of her game. This was disappointing, because I love Christine McVie. The second lowlight was that after the ninth song of night, "World Turning", which included an extended drum solo for Mick Fleetwood, there was a problem with the sound system. They had to take ten minutes or so between "World Turning" and "Gypsy", turning it off and back on, trying unsuccessfully to get rid of a buzzing sound that was there for the rest of the night (although you couldn't really hear the buzz when the band was playing.)

In general, though, the band was clicking on all cylinders. Nicks mentioned that this was seventeenth show of the second leg of their tour, and it showed. The tentativeness the Grumpy Old Men complained about on their Ellen Show clip before the tour had started was gone. Campbell was good for his one lead vocal on "Oh Well", and Finn, in spite of sporting a hairdo that makes him look kind of like a chicken, did great on all of the Buckingham vocals throughout (as well as the band's cover of his Crowded House song "Don't Dream Its Over".) Nicks, however, was in especially good form. I've seen her three times now -- in 2009 with Fleetwood Mac, in 2017 solo and tonight -- and this was her best performance of the three. In spite of now being 70 years old, she seems eternally youthful.

There were some times where the show lagged -- McVie's vocals threw things off a little, and the last song of the night, "All Over Again" from the band's poorly received Time album was a strange choice to close the show. But there were also definite highlights, especially "Gypsy", which has become one of my favorite FM songs, and "Landslide", which I seriously think might be the most beautiful song ever written. (Although I could have done without the drunk chick behind me bellowing "We love you, Stevie!" in my left ear during an especially quiet part of the song.) Overall, I enjoyed the concert a great deal, and don't regret having to sell a few of my children's organs to afford the tickets. (You only really need one good lung anyway, am I right?)

Later last night, when I was home and entering the setlist on, I noticed some interesting stats. Of the 21 songs they played last night (and they've been doing the same set for pretty much the whole tour), seven were from Rumours, and five more were from Fleetwood Mac. This wasn't shocking, since these were far and away the band's two most successful albums. What was surprising, though, is that they didn't play a single song from Tusk, in what I can only assume was one last giant f.u. to Lindsey Buckingham (since that album is often considered to be his masterpiece).

The second interesting thing I found on was the difference in setlist between last night's set and the one I saw them perform 10 years ago. There was a huge overlap between the two sets, and the differences, other than the total absence of songs from Tusk, were pretty much what you would have expected. Last time, I think the only Christine McVie songs they played (with her not being part of the group) were "Say You Love Me" and "Everywhere", which Stevie sang lead on. This time, they did fewer Lindsey Buckingham songs (notably skipping "Tusk" and "Big Love"), and they included the Crowded House song for Finn and the Tom Petty song (with Stevie singing lead) for Campbell.

This is probably the last time I'll ever see Fleetwood Mac live. (My children don't have any more organs they can spare.) But I'm really glad that even though I never saw the classic lineup all together, at least between the two shows I did, I saw all five members at one or the other. Seeing their show last night was a nice reminder of just how much I've loved their music over the years.