Sunday, October 05, 2014

Fleetwood Mac 'Don't Stop' Delighting on the Christine McVie Comeback Tour -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Fleetwood Mac
United Center, Chicago
October 3, 2014 (also played 10/2)

On Thursday, the night before I saw Fleetwood Mac at the cavernous United Center, I saw Robert Plant--of Led Zeppelin, one of my five favorite rock acts of all-time--at the relatively intimate Riviera Theatre.

That rapturous show left me absolutely euphoric--see my review here--but also got me home at 12:30am following some late-night CTA delays, and a 3-block walk to my car in the rain.

So working on just 5 hours of sleep, I was crazy tired but nonetheless felt compelled to have a couple of beers at a post-work Social Hour before taking the bus to the UC.

For both me and my friend Paolo, this would be our 3rd concert in 4 nights, and 4th in seven. Opting for the cheapest possible way in, our tickets were for seats in the very last row of the top level behind the stage.

While I am a longtime Fleetwood Mac fan--after the Eagles' Hotel California, their 1977 Rumours was the first zeitgeist album of my conscious awareness (Saturday Night Fever would soon follow), and I even had a FMac poster on my bedroom wall at one point--and am happy that Christine McVie is back in the fold after 17 years away, I am more so a fan of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who we had seen on a Fleetwood Mac tour in the same venue just 18 months previously.

I have also seen Fleetwood Mac--whose two other "classic lineup" stalwarts are Mick Fleetwood and John McVie--twice more over the past 11 years, and Buckingham on his own once during that time.

Christine's return would allow for the reappearance of a few songs with her on lead vocals, but the band hasn't created a full new album in any guise since 2003's Say You Will.

So if there was ever a concert that might suffer due to comparison, personal exhaustion, repetition and lousy seats, this would seemingly be it.

But the first miracle happened even before the show started.

Likely selecting us because we had the worst seats in the house, a guy named Mike randomly came up to us and--with an explanation I still don't fully understand--offered to exchange two 100-level seats, for which he paid $189 each, with ours, wanting nothing in return. (He didn't sit in our seats, but just needed the ticket stubs; I feared some kind of scam, but it's not like we couldn't have returned to the top deck if need be.)

Although our new seats were technically further from the stage than our old ones, the vantage point was much better and the straightaway perspective was perfect.

With no opening act, the celebrated quintet came onstage at 8:15--with a pair of both additional musicians and backup singers blended into the background--and launched into their longstanding ode to brotherhood (and sisterhood), "The Chain."

Hopefully, even with Christine McVie back onstage with the band, the world will be safe from galactic catastrophe, as back in December 2012 when asked by Rolling Stone about the possibility of merely a McVie guest spot, Stevie Nicks was quoted as saying:

"There's no more a chance of that happening than an asteroid hitting the earth. She is done."

But, as Christine herself told Rolling Stone this past May, "It was an epiphany because I suddenly knew I wanted to join the band again. ... I just thought, "I got to go for it. I can’t just sit here in the country rotting away. I have to do something, and something special.""

Nicks, Buckingham and Fleetwood all spoke onstage about how happy they were to have Christine back with them, and despite being diagnosed and treated for cancer last year, her ex-husband John McVie was steady as a rock on bass all night, continuing a 47-year-run in the band named for him and Fleetwood.

So it was appropriate, touching and musically mirthful that a Christine McVie written and sung song, "You Make Loving Fun" followed "The Chain."

Several more of her songs, including "Everywhere," "Say You Love Me," "Over My Head" and "Little Lies" did well to spotlight how integral her contributions have been--and did much to distinguish this year's Mac tour from 2013's and other 21st century outings.

Yet while I very much like McVie's songs, and even more so those of Nicks (who, as I noted to Paolo, may well be the most iconic extant female rock vocalist)--including "Dreams," "Rhiannon," "Gypsy" and "Gold Dust Woman"--I was again reminded just how much I love Lindsey Buckingham as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. 

His considerable gifts in all three regards were in ample display.

Along with his "Second Hand News," "Never Going Back Again" and "Go Your Own Way" from Rumours--9 of that disc's 11 songs were performed--I especially enjoyed hearing the rollicking "I Know I'm Not Wrong" from Tusk, which I only really know because Buckingham spotlighted it during the solo show of his I saw in 2006.

Though the night featured a clear rotation of Lindsey songs, Stevie songs and Christine songs, unlike tours past I didn't note any obvious tension among the band members--particularly Buckingham and Nicks, perhaps rock's most storied former lovers. 

Stevie & Lindsey's tandem "Landslide" (video below) felt especially touching, while more collective group numbers like "Tusk," "World Turning" and "Don't Stop" sounded ebullient.

Even back when the bandmates were notoriously feuding and/or merely tolerating each other for a sizable payday, Fleetwood Mac has never been less than  enjoyable in concert, due to their prideful professionalism and plethora of great songs.

But whether talk of continuing collaboration (past this tour) and rejuvenated kinship proves true or not, at least for this night I believed in the harmony.

That said, near-the-end extended takes on Nicks' "Gold Dust Woman" and Buckingham's "I'm So Afraid" were clear highlights while showcasing how collaboration and competition have long gone hand-in-hand within Fleetwood Mac.

This was further illustrated as Lindsey's written-about-Stevie "Go Your Own Way" ended the main set, while Stevie's written-for-Rumours-but-left-off rebuttal "Silver Springs" (which was resurrected during The Dance reunion tour) finished off the first trio of encores rather than the more obvious "Don't Stop."

Though it was far from the most buoyant way to end a concert, there was an appreciative grace to Christine McVie returning to the stage, alone, for a rendition of "Songbird"; she was eventually accompanied by Buckingham on guitar, and the rest of the band came out for bows.

All in all, it was a superb concert that featured 24 really good to truly wonderful songs by a band that seems newly reinvigorated in their late 60s. While it didn't leave me quite as ecstatic as the Robert Plant show the night before, I couldn't imagine it being much better than it was.

And it really didn't suffer by point of comparison; I just like Led Zeppelin better than Fleetwood Mac, but the latter more than almost any current band (save perhaps Arcade Fire, live).

So although the full houses of fans largely much younger and hipper than me that loved the Black Keys at the UC last weekend may never believe it, the five old farts in Fleetwood Mac not only played an hour longer than the Keys, but IMHO--and Paolo's--they were infinitely better in every regard.

And I liked the Black Keys show.

As Mick Fleetwood exclaimed in somewhat an unnecessary monologue after the music ended (Nicks had one too):

"The Mac is back!"



Below is video I shot of "Landslide"; sorry for the parts where Paolo and I sing along.

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