Spark Arena, Auckland
Thursday, September 12
I was so into this – and very nervous. I’m a mega Fleetwood Mac fan, I love all periods of the band, all versions. But it’s ten years since I last saw them (back when Lindsey Buckingham was still front and centre) and I just had to wonder how it was all going to go. Yes, local legend Neil Finn is there and is, of course, going to get the biggest cheer of his life – it is remarkable that he is now the super-sub to one of the world’s most enduring bands.
What I needed to remember – and what is almost instantly apparent – is that Fleetwood Mac is both the sum of its parts and something bigger, something mercurial is there dancing in and around the riff to Rhiannon or in the build of The Chain. These are the songs of our lifetime. But in performance these songs are somehow something else, something transcendent occurs whichever iteration of Fleetwood Mac is charged with delivering the goods. Tonight is no different.
And much as I’m Team Lindsey – I think he’s been one of the heavy-lifters and is one of the greatest (if still a little underrated) guitarists stalking the planet – I not only thought this Fleetwood Mac show was good and that Lindsey was more than covered for, it was actually all up a far better show than when I saw the band in New Plymouth just over 10 years ago. Better setlist for starters.
So, the new Mac – with Neil Finn and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers) subbing for Lindsey – takes the stage and throws The Chain, Little Lies and Dreams at the audience. Just like that. Three songs any other band might want to save for set-closers or encores. It’s a strong start, song-wise, but it’s also a bit wobbly. The sound isn’t quite right and Christine is nearly inaudible for Little Lies, Stevie is raspy and struggling on Dreams. The Chain doesn’t quite pop as it did when I saw Buckingham and Nicks still yelling it in the general direction of one another.
But we’re in. It’s good. The troops are happy.
And the concert seems to really get going with Second Hand News. Maybe it’s the jaunty rhythm, maybe it’s the triggering of flashbacks to so many needle-drops on side one, track one of the album Rumours. Or maybe it’s because our boy Neil steps up to deliver his first song-owning lead vocal. But it’s elation. The stadium is won over for sure. Neil is there and he’s killing it – part of the band, leading the band. And the first best lead vocal of the night is under the band’s belt now. No wobbles.
Christine McVie is no better attempting Say You Love Me. I’ve read other reviews complaining of the sound mix, suggesting she was buried – but I’d go so far as to say her voice is gone. She isn’t capable any longer. Her voice is buried on purpose. She can’t get to where she did. It’s great to have her there – I’ve long thought she was the silent strength, the constant in terms of delivering those bridging songs and plenty of the big, big hits too. But she’s just not there really now. Still, at least her songs are. So Say You Love Me slides by with the audience happy to do more of the work. (I reckon Christine will go back to not touring with this band at the end of these gigs. She’ll bow out again).
Black Magic Woman is the first real proof that this version of Fleetwood Mac is up to something special though – not just jukeboxing the obvious. Here they not only go back to the Peter Green era, they give the song to Stevie and she turns its lyric over, taking ownership of the character within the song (“I’m a black magic woman”) and if we know one thing about Ms. Nicks it’s that she loves a character to absorb within a song. Suddenly her voice is better and she’s there with lithe movements, her microphone stand adorned with its trinkets and bedazzlement and Stevie uses it for song-enhancing props. A flick of a strand of material is a gesture matched to a particular lyric, the decision to lift the tambourine over her head at a particular moment both intuitive and calculated. She is everything when she’s deep inside a song.
This version of Black Magic Woman takes stadium-rocking Mac back to the London blues clubs of the 60s, Christine lays down some lovely trickled Hammond and Mike Campbell kills it on the guitar.
Actually, Campbell is the first major revelation for me on this night. Not Neil Finn. I know Neil’s a big match player but Campbell has the giant shoes to fill really. He’s chief soloist – and though he knows all about being a great sideman and a decent guitar hero in fits and starts – I think my anxiety around this show was entirely on Campbell. Could he deliver? Well he was incredible from the opening notes. Channeling not only Buckingham and Green but the ghosts of Kirwan and Welch as well. He’s a sponge for all things Fleetwood Mac: Lead Guitar. And it’s constantly mesmerizing. Particularly as he seems almost nonchalant, dressed as a scarecrow and happy to just be there. To be playing. Serving songs. His life’s work.
I really want to let Christine McVie off the hook – and Everywhere succeeds because it’s a banging wee pop song but Neil Finn is doing a lot of great supporting vocal work.
Neil’s first really big moment arrives with the band covering his Split Enz hit, I Got You. There’s a story of Stevie being in love with the song and creating her own harmony all those years ago – now she gets to put it in practice. It’s a good version – I loved John McVie’s harnessing of the bassline (his famous exploration on The Chain also didn’t pop tonight, so that was a shame. But now he’s here!) And the way Stevie and Neil sing it at each other and perform a dance around the song is, well, it’s very Fleetwood Mac.
Rhiannon is next and Stevie’s fully warmed up now, from black magic to being the white witch, she’s just a brilliant song-server when in full control of the narrative and costumed to accentuate lyrical nuances and musical moods. The riff to this song is nearly everything. And never more so than tonight.
Mick Fleetwood’s energy has been palpable up to this point but then he gets his showcase. World Turning. It’s a gimmick – his big silly drum solo in the middle – but it’s the best I’ve seen him deliver it. And you can feel him winning people over. The solo is fine – because it’s groove-based, and then he chants silly nonsense as he plays and people laugh. The accent. The madness. The moment. It’s all swirling. Worlds turning. And Mick is gathering fans as he gives the rest of the band a break. What felt boring in New Plymouth, and what was tedious and rather poorly executed when I saw him do it with The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band is actually a great showcase tonight. It’s mid-way through the concert and it resets the flow and energy. Mick’s a big-match player. There’s no denying that. But he’s boundless tonight – he’s flying.
Gypsy is maybe the one song of the night where it’s noticeable that Lindsey Buckingham is missing. I love that solo so much – it’s his best playing matched to Stevie’s best lyric. And tonight, try as he might, Campbell cannot replicate that tone and touch. He’s close enough for most in the crowd I’d say. As the song goes down a treat. But I reckon they’d have been wiser to leave that one out.
The fairweather fans weren’t wanting Neil Finn to perform Peter Green’s Man Of The World. But it was a wonderful rendition. Shows the depth of the band – the weirdness and wonder of the songs that stretch back now 50 years. There’s something about Neil’s delivery too, he makes the song his own – in the sense that the middle section wouldn’t have been out of place on those early 80s, nearly post-punk moments on the Split Enz records.
We stay in Peter Green’s world for Oh Well, a guitar-cruncher that sees the stage band reduced down to just the blokes; Mike and Neil trading licks over the rhythm section. It’s always been a highlight of a Mac show, so many guitarists stepping in to cover for Peter Green (and pay tribute to him) on this. And Fleetwood Mac 2019 nails it.
Next up is Neil Finn playing Don’t Dream Its Over – but only after earnest and effusive praise from Mick Fleetwood, talking of it as one of the great songs. It is. We know this. But to hear it in this context is to really drive that home – hearing it alongside so many other well-known and great songs, plus it’s Neil to a home-crowd. It’s a pretty joyous moment.
Nicks continues the praise, saying she’s reminded Neil at every show that that’s a one-in-a-lifetime song to have written; a one for the ages. She wonders how she could possibly follow that. And then in what could almost be a note of false-modesty she pulls out Landslide. Pretty good follow.
Hold Me is Christine McVie’s best moment of the night vocally. But there’s good support from all on stage and most in the audience. A great 80s pop-banger from Christine. She follows it up with one of her 70s-staples: You Make Loving Fun.
And then Nicks gets her best moment of the night. Gold Dust Woman. Always a highlight of a Mac show or a Stevie Nicks solo gig, this is her in full roleplaying madness and wonder. It’s so simple. A golden-hued shawl. That’s it. That’s the costuming. But it’s the way she moves and what she does…that’s the magic. Something no one else could do, despite a few cowboy hat-wearing audience members figuring the power to perform like this might be hidden at the bottom of an RTD.
Nicks is just magnificent here – and so, too, is the song of course. It writhes and pulses. It’s one of Mick Fleetwood’s great performances too. His tribal drum chant in complete service to the lyric.
Neil Finn slays the follow-up, Go Your Own Way. Which is one of the all-time set-closers.
The band returns for a cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ sung by Nicks and its signature chime delivered by Campbell.
And then Don’t Stop – one of my least favourite of the big Mac hits, but an obvious choice to close up the night. And you know what? Tonight it’s as good as I’ve ever heard it.
That’s possibly because tonight Fleetwood Mac is as good as I’ve ever heard it. Messy in places. Sloppy, and maybe sadly not quite as stroppy. But as perfectly imperfect as ever. Those songs man. They’re there. They’re there forever. You can’t deny this group its finest material. And they sure weren’t going to deny the fans. They stepped up to do what they always have done – play the shit out of the hits. Hint at some other angles too, remind you of the dark corners.
There’s a strange magic that drives this band. And its current version is an incredible stadium-filling act that shows no signs of slowing. This doesn’t feel like anything approaching a final victory lap.