Illicit affairs. Rampant cocaine use. Religious cult kidnappings. The creation of a fake group. Drastic band switches in style, genre, and leadership…time and again. Epilepsy. Rehab. Marriages. Divorces. Marriages again. Alcohol-induces seizures. LSD-induced psychosis. Lawsuits. Vicious battles with the promise to never speak again.
Since 1967, Fleetwood Mac has lived the life of a hundred bands. On Oct. 2, I traveled to Chicago to see this same band perform their “latest greatest hits” tour. This was just the last of a string of Fleetwood Mac shows I have attended, and I believe the concert was their best I have seen.
And I had to ask myself, how can a bunch of 70-year-olds be this good for nearly three hours…sober?
Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie are proving with this latest tour that they can still get out there and rock. The high notes are more of a challenge, and the days of running back and forth across the stage, shooting hateful glares at each other are long gone. But the dignity of a well-behaved show doesn’t feel like a nostalgia act at all. The audience ranged in age from young teenagers to senior citizens, and there were no “polite golf claps” as wailing guitars made your ears ring.
Although a new album is in the works, the show in Chicago didn’t focus on new music, and as a result there were few surprises. Don’t Stop. Dreams. Tusk. Say You Love Me. But I noticed that even the songs I personally am tired of hearing live energized the crowd. Stevie was in danger of being irrelevant as an entire stadium sang Landslide and Silver Springs right along with her. These songs, after 20, 30, 40 years still evoke such strong emotions and feelings of familiarity that in those moments, Fleetwood Mac really did appear immortal, timeless.
These “dinosaurs” didn’t put on a “prop them against the mic and turn down the vocal mix” show. Stevie still freaked out at the end of Sisters of the Moon. Lindsey’s blistering guitar work on Big Love and his solo on I’m So Afraid still brought down the house. Also during I’m So Afraid, Mick’s drums literally shook the stadium, and his World Turning solo was yet another incarnation of his trademark spotlight.
A key to the success of Fleetwood Mac has always been the fact that they shouldn’t even still be together. Formed in 1967 as an English blues band, they lost their founder, Peter Green, to a bad LSD trip that never really ended. Their other guitarist was kidnapped by the Children of God and indoctrinated while on tour. Well-known blues singer Christine Perfect married bassist John McVie and joined in 1970, moving the band toward a pop rock sound alongside frontman Bob Welch. Nicks and Buckingham joined in 1975, and suddenly the band was thrust into the spotlight of fame and fortune amidst the cocaine haze of the late 70s. During the making of 1977’s mega-monster Rumours, the entire band got divorced, and let their hearts bleed on vinyl…giving the entire world a front row seat to their most intimate and personal knock-down-drag-outs.
In the years since, experimental albums, addictions and stints in rehab, and bankruptcy created another era of revolving doors, with members coming and going (usually acrimoniously). Bill Clinton kick started the unlikely 1997 reunion, and Christine’s out-of-nowhere desire to rejoin was the catalyst for 2014’s.
I think the return of Christine McVie plays a large part in the reenergizing of the band. Each time McVie addressed the crowd, one of the other band members mentioned her name, or the first notes of one of her hits (especially Little Lies) reverberated through the stadium, the crowd went nuts. While Stevie and Mick gushed about the joy of McVie’s return to the fold, it was the audience that offered the loudest, longest welcome.
As I was standing in line to get a tour shirt, I overheard a conversation between two middle-aged women. “I just feel like they grew up with me,” one told the other. “While I was learning about life and falling in love, Fleetwood Mac was singing about my experiences and assuring me they were real.”
As I listened to Christine close the show with her beautiful Songbird, I couldn’t help but think that fan’s description perfectly summarizes why this band will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary.