Pop Virtuosity, Outlasting the Era and the Legacy of Fleetwood Mac | Concert Preview

Remember The Reynolds Girls?

If you were a British label exec in the late ’80s, maybe. Otherwise, probably not.

The one-hit pop wonder proclaimed the death of Fleetwood Mac’s relevance in their 1989 song “I’d Rather Jack.” At the time, they looked right. The band that financially stimulated the entire music industry 12 years before with Rumours was more flailing than classic. 1987’s Tango In The Night was a slow-burning success, but drugs and band in-fighting caused guitarist and singer Lindsey Buckingham to depart. At which point the band opened the door for the ultimate pro-Lindsey argument, attempting to replace him with two guitarists. It didn’t work.

Twenty-five years and a half dozen reunion tours later, Fleetwood Mac’s place as a signature classic rock act is well intact, and its non-radio-friendly work resonates with 21st century artists, from the chaos of Tusk to Buckingham’s adventurous solo material. Anecdotally, the number of young people and musicians with love for Fleetwood Mac’s work stands out from their once-contemporaries. Look at the other artists who topped the charts in 1977 alongside Rumours. The interest in them is mostly passing, ironic, nostalgic or just faintly appreciable: The Eagles, Hall and Oates, ABBA, The Emotions, Debby Boone, Bee Gees.

Moreover, you could say very safely that all those artists sound like their era. Fleetwood Mac, though, has always tapped into some warm, luxurious center of rock music or its absurd outskirts.

By the way, no one tells John McVie what shoes and socks to wear.

More importantly, we’re going to move forward by previewing Fleetwood Mac’s Lincoln show at Pinnacle Bank Arena tomorrow night by having Nebraska musicians weigh in on their legacy and influence.

Here’s Make Believe Studios’ Rick Carson on why Fleetwood Mac holds up sound- and production-wise. It’s part-technology, part-production, part-marketable writing:

“... [Rumours and Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album] feature very dry and tight drum lines and lots of organic instruments and amazing guitar riffs for texture, although they are not a riffing band … [By Tusk] they were using more synths and other textures … They knew from a sonic standpoint their records had degradation, and Fleetwood Mac was one of the first the restore high-end to a master tape using the now-infamous apex 402 aural exciter. Which at that time wasn’t available for purchase, you could only rent it by the minute.

The main thing I think that stands out for me with their production is the use of repetitive parts. The band and the people producing them were very good at knowing what was going to sell the song … They knew what to repeat and where to place it so that it was as infectious as possible.”

* * *

Until they’re in the ground, the soap opera of Fleetwood Mac off the stage will capture our interest on some voyueristic level. On Saturday night, probably after or during “Landslide,” Stevie will go rest her head on Lindsey’s shoulder and the crowd will hold in its breath for a moment, as though their witnessing the still-in-progress recovery from 40 years of emotional damage and betrayal. Is it premeditated? Almost certainly. Is it insidious pandering? Maybe not. If Fleetwood Mac proved anything in their most tumultuous days, it’s that performance and reality were bound. That could still, in some way, be the case.

But Stevie has always radiated this energy: the feeling that her singing outbursts come from a holy and mystically private place.

As late as 1997, Stevie’s visible rage when performing the neo-classic “Silver Springs” saw tension in the band leaning a little more real than staged. “Silver Springs” was a late scratch was Rumours. Stevie’s song, Lindsey’s decision. Skip to 4:20 for the sharpest eye-daggers.

Here’s Lincoln rapper Buay Dubz on Stevie’s immeasurable ethereal impact, her emotionalism and the story of the band’s relationships forever living in its music:

“I’d put Fleetwood Mac up there with just about any band but that’s not why I fell in love with them. The charisma, stage presence and mystique Stevie Nicks brought to the table just entranced me instantly. The Black shawls and witchy (American Horror Story: Coven) persona she carried in the late 70s was flawless. “Rhiannon” may very well be my favorite song of all time. That initial bass line hits and I just get goosebumps every single time. Also, the story behind how Stevie wrote that is pretty gnarly too. So in a sense, I was drawn to Fleetwood Mac by their sound, but I stuck around for Stevie.  

As for my own music, I strive for that level of honesty that Fleetwood had on Rumours. I want to make people nod their heads to a beat, then stop and actually think critically about the lyrics. I tend to make music with dark, introspective tones and the trick is to get people to sing along to it. Ideally … I want someone to hear a line and think ‘Wow! I’ve always thought that but just couldn’t articulate it!” And as far as everyday life goes, I look for inspiration in conversations that I have with friends, family and even strangers. Inspiration is waiting around every corner; the key is to look for it.'” 

* * *

What sets Saturday night apart from the last five years of Fleetwood Mac stadium tours is the return of singer/keyboardist Christine McVie. In recent years, her absence hasn’t stopped Fleetwood Mac from playing many of its Rumours hits, all with Stevie and Lindsey at the helm. But McVie does sprinkle a certain dust over the band that sees them trying more out-of-the-box ideas, all with a serious devotion to melody.

Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album Tango In The Night is a brilliant example of her influence, with songs like “Everywhere” and “Little Lies.” It’s poppy, catchy and sometimes it’s a fascinating train-wreck. Here’s Cory Kibler of The Sleepover on McVie as Fleetwood Mac’s special ingredient:

“Rumours is the album that everyone points to when they talk about classic Fleetwood Mac (and immaculate rock and roll in general). It’s pretty much perfect. But, for some reason, the album that really blows my ear is Tango in the Night. It’s cheesy, it’s overproduced, it’s the paradigm example of glitter-rock. In fact, at least two songs off that record literally start with glitter-sounds (that’s the best name I can think for them). I imagine that several, several bags of cocaine were involved in the making of this record. As an entity, it doesn’t hold a candle to Rumours. But, because I am inexplicably obsessed with music that’s unabashedly over the top, I love it.

In this case, I think it boils down to Christine McVie’s songwriting. Fleetwood Mac is great, and Buckingham and Nicks wrote songs that will live forever. But, the McVie-penned songs–specifically, “Everywhere” and “Little Lies”–are the standouts. These songs are big. They’re layered. They’re lush. They’re Phil Spector times Jeff Lynne plus Yeezy divided by Albini. I don’t know what that means; just go on Spotify and listen to them.

Another aspect of these songs, as Chance Solem-Pfeifer so accurately stated, with his immaculate bone structure, is that they are “uncool.” And he’s right. These songs, along with every other song on Tango in the Night, are REALLY fucking uncool. And they’re not the kind of uncool where you could still play them at a party to get everyone dancing. They’re not even Taylor Swift uncool, where everyone agrees that despite not really being a fan, they admit that they love “Shake It Off.” Tango in the Night is uncool in the same way that “Africa” by Toto is uncool. Maybe even in the same way that Reel Big Fish is uncool. OK, maybe that’s going to far, but you see what I’m getting at. By whole-heartedly, unironically loving this record, you are telling the world, “I listen to whatever’s fun to listen to, no matter how schlocky or ridiculous it is.” And in my case, I am also saying, “I am going to scream into my own lap if Fleetwood Mac plays ‘Everywhere’ this Saturday in Lincoln.” For the entire song. Maybe a stranger’s lap, too. Haven’t decided.”

* * *

On Saturday, we’re also going to see Lindsey Buckingham’s distinctive and slender Model One guitar, custom made for him by Rick Turner. He’s toted it around like a howling calling card since 1979. On it, Buckingham plays finger-style solos that could burn down an arena, at the same time demonstrating a level of touch on the instrument that makes it sound — at some of its most canonical moments — not even like a guitar.

On the song “Gypsy” for example, one of the only standouts from 1982’s The Mirage, I always thought the crystal walkabout happening in the background was a synth, until I saw it Buckingham drawing these long pristine notes out of his guitar, almost like a ventriloquist. See Through Dresses‘ Matt Carroll can take that level of amazement with Buckingham’s guitar playing several steps further. Carroll says he was essentially introduced to the guitar by watching and then learning Fleetwood Mac songs from their 1997 video concert The Dance:

“Those are some of my earliest memories of being totally infatuated with the instrument … when [Lindsey] started playing, he was playing with his fingers, and I was like, “What?!” He does this flicking move that’s this totally unique thing. He seemed to have this ability to make these guitar notes kind of appear out of nowhere. I didn’t even feel like he was plucking the strings sometimes. And it would sing so well … I think of him a lot when writing guitar parts.

There are things that I do with delay on the first album … making a guitar sound like this otherworldly thing. These sustained notes. You hear that style on “The Chain” … when the guitar is just wailing, and it leads in with the classic bassline. Those notes just sustain so incredibly and they’re so pure of tone. That’s something I’ve always tried to get out my guitar-playing to replicate that otherworldly sound. The last song on our first record, “Red Cars,” at the end those guitars are so modulated and spacey. When I do stuff like that, I think there’s always a bit of Lindsey Buckingham in the back of my mind guiding me. Like, ‘Don’t overplay! Don’t lose the melody. Make sure you’re emphasizing the song and the vocal lines.'”

* * *

On some level, the songs that linger in our minds and on class radio will always do so because of chords, because of a tried-and-true pop structure tweaked by a certain sensibility. Inside Fleetwood Mac’s songwriting, The Bottle Tops’ Mike Semrad sees the threads of centuries of popular music at work, even when the end result is laden with idiosyncrasies, as in Buckingham’s “Holiday Road.”

“Fleetwood Mac to me is the perfect loving couple band. If you took neighborhood couples who are just perfect and then just put a mountain of cocaine in front of them, that’s exactly what Fleetwood Mac is for me. And along with that comes love romance, darkness, horrible relationship. You name it: that band has gone up and down through so many reinventions. It’s crazy to me.

When you start getting into Lindsey Buckingham’s solo records, it’s deep personal excavations. Trying to rebuild himself and find himself and fix himself. To me, that’s so cool as a songwriter. Even his latest record is super good and dabbles in drum beats and he does most of the recording himself.

He probably created one of my favorite all-time songs from the ’80s: “Holiday Road.” I think it just comes down to writing a good rock song. Early on, he was fascinated with The Kingston Trio and jazz bluegrass. And if you really breakdown “Holiday Road, ” you can pick that out. It’s this really driving beat, but then he’ll do all these other crazy things. His vocal on that is really wet and reverbed and he digs that. It totally holds up! I think it just comes down to a pop song that can live timelessly.”

* * *

If you made it this far, I’d just leave you with one assurance. The band can still really, really play. I saw them in an arena named after a phone company in 2013, and it was just grand. We were far away.

Also, I’d argue Lindsey playing “I’m So Afraid” is more physically impressive than Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46.

Chance Solem-Pfeifer (@chance_s_p) is a contributing writer at Hear Nebraska, and its former managing editor. Reach him at chancesp@hearnebraska.org.