Fleetwood Mac takes complicated history on the road

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham perform during a Fleetwood Mac concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Photo by Jason DeCrow/Invision/AP)

Fleetwood Mac formed around the rhythm section of bassist John McVie (though he didn’t perform on the band’s earliest singles and tour) and drummer Mick Fleetwood way back in 1967.

More than 45 years later, they’ve gone through several wholesale changes that produced three distinct eras: the early Peter Green British blues masters years; the mid-1970s Bob Welch rock years; and finally and most successfully, the Lindsey Buckingham-Stevie Nicks superstar years that brought chart-topping hits and arguably the best breakup rock album ever, 1977’s massive hit Rumours.

Since 1998, when longtime singer/songwriter/keyboardist Christine McVie retired, Fleetwood Mac has consisted of Buckingham, Nicks, John McVie, Fleetwood and a gaggle of hired musicians. The band hasn’t released a new album since 2003’s Say You Will, but the 2013 tour, loosely tied to the deluxe reissue of the Rumours album, is its first in four years. The band will perform Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

The band has been in victory-lap mode since the last studio album, but lest fans think the four sexagenarians are simply shaking the money tree, there is new Fleetwood Mac music available, an EP imaginatively titled Extended Play.

Released in late April, Extended Play features four songs, three written by Buckingham and one, the acoustic guitar-driven Without You, written by Nicks during her days as a duo with Buckingham. In a bit of 21st century irony, Nicks rediscovered the song in demo form while searching videos on YouTube.

The EP’s lead single, Sad Angel, is a pleasantly up-tempo pop-rock song ripe for 91.3 The Summit. “I wrote this song last year for Stevie, who always had to fight for everything,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone in May.

“ ‘Sad angel, have you come to fight the war?’ We’re all warriors with a sword of one sort or another, and she and I have known each other since high school,” he said.

Though Nicks is largely relegated to providing the girl part of the group’s patented boy/girl harmonies, the songs (Sad Angel and Without You are in the current set list) are solid and short enough to not have fans retreating to the bathrooms for their duration.

Naturally, most will be there to hear the songs with which they grew up, a sizable chunk of them from Rumours. At this point, the band has a few generations of fans, filling seats with grown folks who bought the band’s albums back in the proverbial day bringing their families, along with younger listeners who discovered Fleetwood Mac via parental or classic rock/pop radio osmosis. In 2011, the popular Fox musical television series Glee aired an entire episode centered on Rumours, featuring six songs from the album, which sent it back to the charts, peaking at number 11.

“We’re doing the best business we’ve done in 20 years, maybe it’s a generational thing,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone shortly after the April 4 start of the tour.

The Rumours 35th anniversary set comes in a three-CD “Expanded” edition and a “Super Deluxe” edition, giving fans plenty of extras over which they can obsess. Both include a dozen live tracks from 1977, 16 demos and outtakes, with the Deluxe also sporting another 18 outtakes and demos along with The Rosebud Film, a 1977 documentary, and the original album on vinyl.

For the tour, the band has put together a 23-song set list that covers the entire Buckingham-Nicks era, opening with a triple shot of songs from Rumours (“to get it out of the way,” Buckingham said), reaching back to 1975’s eponymous album that included the hits Rhiannon and the oft-covered (and occasionally butchered) Landslide, through Sara and the title track from 1979’s willfully experimental Tusk, and the ’80s MTV era with soft-rock hits such as Gypsy. Nicks gets a moment in the spotlight to sing Stand Back, and of course Mick Fleetwood retains his standard elaborately staged drum solo spot during World Turning.

Though Nicks and Buckingham’s romantic relationship ended a few decades ago, their dynamic has long been a driving creative force of the band. The two held hands at the big-tour-announcement news conference, discussed their relationship and how it still informs what they do as a group, including ending the set with Nicks and Buckingham singing a duet on Say Goodbye.

“For years, it was difficult to get complete closure with her, like picking a scab off a wound over and over. The song is about how all the illusions have fallen away, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope and belief in our future in a different context,” he told Rolling Stone.

That different context could be a new album, as Buckingham recently stated he’d be interested in recording with his bandmates.

Many legendary rock bands that hang around for a few decades become more business partners than band mates, such as the Ramones, the Rolling Stones, the Police and the Eagles, to name a few. That kind of detached organizational focus appeals to Buckingham.

“Sometimes I wish we were the Eagles,” he said in winter 2012 to Rolling Stone. “That’s one thing they’ve always been able to do is want the same thing for the same reasons. They probably don’t share the same sensibilities as people and they may not spend much time together, but somehow they’re able to put that aside and get on with the business of doing business, and there’s something to be said for that.”

The members of Fleetwood Mac might not be able to gather and simply get on with business, but being a part of one of the most obsessively chronicled and detailed relationships in rock history, which produced one of rock history’s most popular albums, many hit songs and a loyal audience that spans a few generations, ain’t too bad either.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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