As Fleetwood Mac head into the Australian and New Zealand leg of their massive worldwide tour, the band contends with fighting ghosts, looking to the future and not breaking the chain with fans.
Fleetwood Mac are the 8-ball of classic rock royalty. Question the history or intention of the band and you could come up with a number of answers that sort of fit.
"Is Fleetwood Mac still good in concert without Lindsey Buckingham?"
"Will Neil Finn and Mike Campbell remain members of Fleetwood Mac after this tour?"
Reply Hazy Try Again.
"Are they just as good live as when they last toured in 2015?"
Ask Again Later
"Could Fleetwood Mac survive without Stevie Nicks?"
Don't Count On It.
The band has been through a dizzying amount of band changes in it's fifty years but it's the most recent change that has caused the most division amongst their fans. Buckingham's outing last year was swift and seemingly quite brutal. Fired via a phone call for apparently not complying with upcoming tour plans, Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks implored the public they had no choice but to move on without their former creative force. Buckingham has refuted this claim.
In his place singer and songwriter Neil Finn from Crowded House and guitarist legend Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were brought in to fill the immense void left by the ousting of the most frenetic member of the band.
So online, fans picked sides criticising both parties or arguing for civility, others vowed to never go to another concert or professed excitement at the new blood in the band. Cries that Buckingham had been wronged were responded with indifference by Nicks supporters who argued she was the actual star of the band. At the end of the day it didn't amount to much as the wider public loves the music of Fleetwood Mac not the internal dramas, and have subsequently been packing out stadiums and arenas across North America and Europe.
For this fan who follows the ebb and flow of Fleetwood Mac news ardently, I was extremely sceptical they could deliver without Buckingham. Other reviews of their first show in Australia ranged for pleasantly surprised to glowing. And it's true, having now seen their first two shows on the Australian leg of their tour, I can say the group appear to have a show that hits all the beats it should, is enjoyable to watch, but also seems to be ignoring the elephant... or penguin, in the room.
The highlights of both nights were a moving duet rendition between Finn and Nicks, of Finn's "Don't Dream It's Over" and an encore homage to Tom Petty with his "Free Fallin'". These two songs had the emotional upswing that caused 15,000 punters to get onto their feet and sing passionately. And whilst these songs were stellar, considering these were Fleetwood Mac concerts, one would expect it to be Fleetwood Mac songs that would get people to take their phones out to record.
Perhaps it's because Finn is so beloved by Australians for his work in Split Enz and Crowded House and for the impact he has had on Australian music. I was so fascinated by Finn that when I was at uni I presented his songwriting in my poetry class with all the fervour of a young girl who thought she was the first person to uncover the Kiwi. His genuine personality tinged with a dry wit and larrikinism is relatable and charming. Finn responding to the weight of responsibility has also stepped up his game from earlier on in the tour and is surprisingly now evolving into an exciting rock guitarist, showing off his talent with a grungy rendition of "Oh Well" on both nights.
In the official band shots Finn stands relaxed with a key hanging from his neck foretelling his talent, adaptability and likability would be vital to this tour's success from the outset. In that he has definitively succeeded.
Given the spotlight Finn took it for all it was worth and made it his own, through a melancholic version of "Man Of The World" (not heard since 1969) to sharing guitar duties with Campbell in "Oh Well". Yet despite all that, when he was brought in with Nicks’ and Christine McVie's songs, his energy shifted, as he consciously pulled himself back to a supporting role. Then as he sang Buckingham's penned songs it became strange, "I know there is nothing to say, someone has taken my place" Finn sung with all conviction through "Second Hand News".
Campbell, who looked like the Captain Sparrow of west coast rock, is a legend in his own right but whose influence many people may not have been aware of until the photo montage that accompanied ”Free Fallin’” played at the end. His playing style, different to Buckingham’s, still had a grittiness and he deftly managed all the guitar flourishes that typically closed out their songs.
Over on the keys McVie was a welcome sight. Her solid and assured presence always grounded the band from Nicks’ and Buckingham's reactive behaviour. Her voice, known for its warmness, did come across almost papery at certain times, with the key and tempo being dropped for "Little Lies" and "Hold Me". Later she regained ground by leaving a lasting impression with the rousing encore closer "Don't Stop". Her former husband John McVie as usual remained in the background providing one half of the most iconic rhythm sections in rock with Mick Fleetwood. Fleetwood, always the jester of the band, still has playing prowess and clearly lives for performing. The continued inclusion of his eye watering five minute drum solo during "World Turning" actually provided an opportune toilet and drinks break during the two and half hour show.
Nicks too also took a while to warm up, and her voice was more limber on the Sunday than it was on the Friday. She still shone gloriously in her black Margie Kent outfit and suede boots. She still had grown men tearing up through "Landslide", and bewitched us all with an impassioned "Gold Dust Woman" and a sultry version of "Black Magic Woman", yet without Buckingham beside her there was no one for her lyrical barbs to be directed to. Additionally the quirky quips and banter she had shared between songs with Buckingham were now gone leaving the audience to only see her sparkling personality during the dedication of "Landslide".
As she gave kind smiles across to Finn there was a certain niceness to everything. You could argue that maybe that's the way bands should be, happy families and all, but have you gone through the songs of a Fleetwood Mac setlist? Fleetwood Mac live is such an unruly beast because of the catalytic nature of their performances. An adoring look one moment, could so easily be returned with a vicious side glance which then would feed into their performance, and there was some understanding by fans that it was all informed by their deep rooted dynamics.
Fleetwood Mac were a band balanced by the light and shade of its band members. Nicks the hopeless romantic and McVie the ballad songbird were tempered by Buckingham's dark simmering cynicism leading to a back and forth that very few bands have. So songs like "Go Your Own Way" which should've sparked and crackled failed to do so as Finn sung Buckingham's bitter lyrics warmly to Nicks only recovering that fire during the final "all in" guitar solo and drum breakdown at the end.
For the casual Australian fan, the Mac Attack's current show will completely entertain. They will hear all the songs they loved which are delivered like a greatest hits package. For ardent fans, their attention will be held by the inclusion of lesser played work; on Friday night they played "Hold Me" from 1983's "Mirage" for the first time ever in Perth, and on Sunday the last time we had heard "Blue Letter" was way back in 1990. Offering up these charms helps keep the indicator on the dial closer to the side of a vibrant rock show than nostalgic tribute band. With that said after twenty two songs its hard not to be pleased but in the end we are not entirely satiated.
This is completely new territory for a band that has toured every three years (with essentially the same set list) to now contend what their next step will be. So what does the future hold for Fleetwood Mac? With this band anything is possible and it all rests in Stevie Nicks' delicate hands. She is the star of the show and without her Fleetwood Mac would say goodbye to their Arena tours to play more modest venues (as happened back in the early 1990s). Pundits can argue that this is a band of change but without Nicks would fans around the world pay up to $400 for a ticket? What would get people out, and be the most bizarre turn, would be a reunion or reconciliation tour. Given the telenovela nature of Rock n' Roll's most lovingest and fightingest classic rock band, nothing would surprise at this point.