Fleetwood Mac takes its complicated history on the road
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 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 early 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. “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 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 and 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.