Is this version of Fleetwood Mac worth seeing live?

Fleetwood Mac’s current lineup: John McVie (bass), Stevie Nicks (vocals), Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Neil Finn (rhythm guitar, vocals), Mick Fleetwood (drums), & Mike Campbell (lead guitar) in Tulsa in October (Credit: Wikimedia)

Earlier this year, after Fleetwood Mac fired frontman Lindsey Buckingham, I predicted the band would be better live. This proved mostly true at the Tacoma Dome last Saturday.

The setlist changed less than I had hoped, but the fresh material still thrilled.

In Tacoma, the Mac featured three tunes from the pre-Buckingham era, including two by band founder Peter Green. New axeman Mike Campbell can’t sing, he ain’t pretty, and his legs are thin — which perfectly qualifies him to sing lead vocals on “Oh Well.” Campbell nailed the blues riffs and perpetrated satisfying solos on that song and on “Black Magic Woman,” which self-styled Welsh witch Stevie Nicks sang in the first person.

More boldly, the band brought back an old Danny Kirwan song. Before the tour, Nicks and Mick Fleetwood threatened to revive the grating “Station Man.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. “Tell Me All the Things You Do” falls flat on Kiln House, but rises to live greatness with a new arrangement featuring Neil Finn and Christine McVie on lead vocals, followed by an extended blues-rock jam led by Campbell’s soaring guitar.

Someone has taken his place

The set contained more Buckingham numbers than expected — not just the obligatory “Go Your Own Way,” but also “Monday Morning” and “Second Hand News.” As predicted, Finn sang Lindsey’s parts more melodically and with greater range than Buckingham has managed in two decades. Finn did falter a bit on the scat sections of “Second Hand News,” sounding very much like the square New Zealander he is. But Nicks harmonized with Finn far more enthusiastically than she has on recent tours with her estranged ex and former abuser.

Campbell can play Buckingham’s lead riffs, but falls far short of Lindsey as a soloist. I looked forward to hearing the ex-Heartbreaker reinvent Mac songs with his signature solos: spare, concise, tasteful, restrained. Unfortunately, Campbell opted instead to answer Buckingham’s frenetic bombast with overlong, languid solos that often lagged behind the beat, overstayed their welcome, and grew repetitive over the course of the evening. Given that he will never match Lindsey’s speed, precision, or inventiveness, Campbell should go back to being himself, and — to keep things fresh — delegate lead guitar duties on a few songs to Finn and longtime Mac tour sideman Neale Heywood.

Though not a virtuoso like Campbell, Finn is a capable lead guitarist. The Mac mostly failed to capitalize on Finn’s instrumental chops. On “Rhiannon,” Campbell and Finn evoked the Allman Brothers by harmonizing on a dual lead guitar riff. In the middle of the set, while Campbell took a break, Finn played acoustic lead guitar on his own “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and then on “Landslide,” with Heywood nailing the electric solo on the latter.

Mac fans warmly received the revivals of pre-Buckingham material, and appeared to embrace Finn’s singing and Campbell’s playing on songs originally recorded by the iconic Rumours lineup. The performance of Finn’s Crowded House hit evoked a mixed reaction, which improved when Nicks sang the song’s last and best verse (“and I’m counting the steps to the door of your heart”). Some people around me groused that the band had better not play any more non-Fleetwood Mac songs. (That hostility may explain why Finn’s Split Enz hit “I Got You” — a fixture earlier in the tour, with Nicks on harmony vocals — seems to have been dropped permanently from the setlist.)

The crowd swooned, however, when the Mac paid tribute to Tom Petty during the encore with a performance of “Free Fallin’,” sung by Nicks.

Though her voice is growing thinner, Christine McVie remains the soul of the band. In addition to playing her obligatory hits from Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, she performed three cuts from Tango in the Night — including “Isn’t It Midnight,” a great guitar workout for Campbell. Humble to a fault, Christine rarely played piano solos on past tours, but she took a few this time — including a fine one on the show’s rousing closer, “Don’t Stop.”

The Ego Hydra

With Buckingham gone, Nicks and Fleetwood dominated the proceedings. Each of them, in their own way, matched Lindsey’s propensity for self-indulgence while exceeding Buckingham’s penchant for aesthetic lapses.

Nicks was in remarkably fine vocal form throughout the night. She has a teleprompter onstage to remind her of the words, but her lyrical ad libs still mar otherwise beautiful songs. “Gypsy,” for example, is not enhanced when Stevie punctuates the usual lyrics with weird cries of “Hey, hey, baby!”

“Gold Dust Woman” dragged on far, far, faaaaaaar too long, presumably to let Nicks cavort about doing her patented Crackhead Dance while the band banged through a remarkably monotonous psychedelic jam. It began to bore even the hardest-core Stevie diehards; the applause that broke out when the debacle finally ended signified relief more than approval.

Fleetwood pounding on a talking drum in Tulsa (Source: Wikimedia)

On the other hand, the audience genuinely loved Fleetwood’s inept, interminable drum solo during “World Turning.”

No, I am not the sort of snob who hates drum solos on principle. As a drummer myself, I love drum solos. Brevity and variety are the keys to a good solo. Fleetwood failed on both counts.

Mick has always been a fine drummer, but a poor soloist. Poor soloists should generally avoid taking solos. If they insist on taking a solo, good taste dictates extreme brevity.

Yes, it is impressive that the septuagenarian drummer can still play a two-hour rock show. At this point in his life, Fleetwood has a moral right to take a solo.

But this ranked among the dullest and most basic drum solos in history. Mick eventually broke the monotony with some meatheaded call and response shouting — heartily answered by drunkards in the crowd. Finally, he took mercy on the audience, letting backup percussionist Taku Hirono join in on congas. While Hirono’s rapidfire runs rocked the house, Fleetwood emerged from behind the kit to pound impotently on a talking drum. (Despite more than forty years of experience with this magnificent instrument, Mick still can’t play it properly — i.e., make it talk.)

After the encore, the rest of the band left, but Fleetwood stayed behind to ramble platitudes at the crowd. He ultimately told us to take care of ourselves and be kind to one another. It went on so long that the audience began to wonder if a second encore might be coming. No such luck.

Once they finish the tour and get some rest, this lineup should hit the studio and cut an album. Campbell, Nicks, Finn, and Christine McVie have all written and recorded good new material in recent years. All are congenial collaborators. A new mix of talent sparks creativity, and touring together builds chemistry. The world deserves an album from this version of Fleetwood Mac. And another tour, with a more daring setlist, a shorter drum solo, and no Crackhead Dance.

History, politics, education, music, culture. Award-winning high school teacher, former principal. College instructor. Seahawks Diehard. Twitter: @brian_mrbmkz

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