30th November 2003
Earls Court, London
Arenas are not my favourite places to see … well, even Arena rock, and I’ve never paid £75 a ticket in my life before (though I guess Marvin Gaye in 1976 at £25 was quite a lot more expensive in real terms). So to Earls Court, and a thoroughly enjoyable show from Buckingham-Nicks, I mean Fleetwood Mac. It wasn’t perfect. For a start we had seats at the side and sadly it proved to be Lindsey’s Buckingham’s side rather than Stevie Nicks’ side.
The sound, considering we were nearly right angles to the stage was surprisingly good, in fact totally brilliant on drums, but John McVie’s bass was muzzy and somewhat lost from our angle. A shame, because I’ve come to greatly admire his springy propulsive style. Yes, any competent bass player could play the notes of his simple but insistent parts, but I doubt that any could do it with the same degree of bounce and rhythm. McVie and Fleetwood, two of the luckiest men in rock, have taken themselves a long way, and they exude an air of genial old buffers at the back. Except that Fleetwood’s drumming was extraordinarily good. I don’t mean the ten minute solo which includes a talking drum and patting electric drums on his waistcoat, I mean overall. He had two subsiduary drummers who were first-rate, but the interplay of the three had been so carefully worked out that the overall effect was astonishing.
Apart from McVie, each of the principals had a two person support section – two female singers for Stevie, two guitarists for Lindsey and two percussionists for Mick. Plus a keyboard player filling in for retiree Christine McVie (or Perfect as we old-timers think of her, and perfect she was).
The first thought is how hyper Buckingham is throughout. What must he have been like in the coke-fuelled days if he’s that hyper now? Anyone would be impressed by his guitar playing, but to me he’s most outstanding when he’s playing backing on semi-acoustic or acoustic. Part of the deal seems to be that he has to do the full 1970 guitar hero thing, including (gingerly) throwing guitars around and getting the front row to strum while he fingers the frets. Buckingham has decided to indulge in some private fantasy engendered by watching Springsteen, Neil Young and Chuck Berry. Bits of each are faithfully included. The first long guitar solo (appropriately called Come) was impressive. Why this particular wank-fest had to repeated almost exactly twenty minutes later was a mystery – complete with similar tantrums towards the guitar.
Worse I think was the way the setting was built around it. The unraked seats in the middle were an arm and a leg – £120, I think. Which is why we sat in the tier at the side, but only three rows up for the cheaper figure of an ankle and a finger. Before the show, about three rows of people walked to the front and stood in front of the central section next to the stage. Security seemed concerned at letting no more than this number go to the front, but they also made no attempt to clear them back to their seats (and the sold out show revealed the empty seats vacated by the standers in the cheap sections!) . As soon as the show started the whole centre had to stand up to see, and stay on their feet for two and a half hours. I’m sensitive to this issue as my wife is five foot nothing and in such situations might as well wait for the bootleg DVD because she sees nothing at all of the show. Fortunately we were in the tier, but I would have been mightily pissed if I’d stood in line to buy those £120 tickets. When you realized that Buckingham’s entire wank-fest was built round bending and appealing to the (carefully controlled numbers of) standers, you could see why security had allowed that many (and then no more) to obscure the view of the thousands in the flat central area.
Anyway, Buckingham can afford to indulge his Springsteen fantasy. He works his balls off all evening and performs superbly so good luck to him. Of course it IS the Stevie Nicks show for me. Stevie looks a bit short of puff compared to the boys and certainly has to save herself up for the twirls when they finally arrive. As she’s close to my age I’m hugely impressed that she can sing spot-on all evening, and fully understand the need to conserve energy in order to do it. She and Lindsey play up the “Fleetwood Mac- The Soap Opera” bit with hugs and kisses to entertain the audience. Stevie Nicks has a signature voice. She is a star. She did everything I’d hoped to hear, except “Thrown Down” off the new one.
In the end, I think the effort, show length and high level of performance do justify the price tag and their exulted status – they could have sold out many more large shows. They already added two. Everyone went away happy. The Earth didn’t move (as it did with James Taylor and Paul Simon recently) but you can see why they retain their following.
One “What if …” moment came at the end when Mick announced that Peter Green was in the audience. A sharp intake of breath there … would he? But in the audience he stayed. Instead we got Albatross through the PA as playout. The ultimate Mac for me is the Buckingham-Nicks one, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing Peter Green with them.