If you were to ask anyone who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s the question, ‘What was it your parents listened to when you were a kid?’ The answer is more often than not met with, ‘Fleetwood Mac!’ With that in mind it’s hardly surprising to see a complete array of age ranges litter the walkways at Manchester Arena as the music that influenced our parents, inspired the generations that followed.
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen ‘Fleetwood Mac’ several times throughout life, starting with my first ever gig when I was six years old down at the NEC in Birmingham in 1988, and despite seeing them on several occasions in the years that followed, there’s still an intense feeling of excitement about watching them again. It promises to be a dreamy trip down memory lane for most of the audience, filled with the poetic musings, and angelic voice of Stevie Nicks, the impeccable, rocking guitar of Lindsey Buckingham, and not forgetting Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, the rhythm section who the band were originally named after by Peter Green back in the 1960s when they were a blues orientated outfit!
The packed arena boasts a variety of people and backgrounds, split evenly amongst gender, many wearing souvenir t-shirts to signify which tour they’ve been privileged to be part of that ranges from the 80s to the late 2000’s! As always, we’re treated to a number of Stevie Nicks mimics dressed in typical bohemian mystique style clothing complete with top hats (the hallmark of the beloved lead singer)! The arena is plunged into darkness as many scramble to make it to their seat in time, unwilling to miss a second! From the upper blocks at the back, we can just about make out the silhouettes of the band as they make their way onstage, aided by those at the front who clap and cheer to greet their arrival. They open with two songs off the celebrated ‘Rumours’ album, the first being ‘Second Hand News’, which transforms the atmosphere from subdued anticipation into unrestrained electricity as many fans refuse to sit down, preferring to stand, dance and chant! ‘The Chain’, an undeniable classic, immediately follows to further screams! Buckingham’s guitar is on fire as it rips through the air to cut a hole in the roof. As the first part of the tune quietens, the crowd eagerly await the bass line, immortalised through Formula One Racing, and they can’t help but attempt to vocalise the riff as it gathers pace. I admit I joined in as childhood memories sprung to mind of family holidays rallying around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, back when it was more accessible, where we’d blast ‘The Chain’ out on the car’s cassette player!
It quickly becomes apparent that despite the number of years ‘Fleetwood Mac’ have been doing this, their passion and enthusiasm has not strayed at all. The vocals of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are still as soulful as ever, alternating the limelight as both share singing duties, and they still look deep into each other’s eyes from across the stage whilst singing to each other. Nicks may have to reign in the power screams from time to time, but she still possesses that elegant, yet gravelly vocal that made her the Queen of Rock, and despite her small stature, her presence is larger than life! She shouts, ‘Let’s get this party started’ as she breaks into the hypnotic, ‘Dreams’ an ode to her break-up with Buckingham well over thirty years ago. The lyrics and melodies are a shining example of beautiful song writing! She gives exceptional renditions of ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Gypsy’, two giants that further exemplify her unique heart warming writing and singing ability that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. She stuns the crowd by performing the emotive, ‘Sara’, a track that hasn’t been played live for decades, which ends with both Buckingham and Nicks embracing, bringing huge cheers from the watchful crowd. ‘Landslide’ is wonderfully delivered, and is dedicated to John Courage, the road manager of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ for twenty five years, who was present in the audience. Her highlight has to be an unbelievable account of ‘Gold Dust Woman’, which is still as haunting and mesmeric as ever, eerily drawing you in like you’re locked into a séance like trance of some sort.
(watch from 4:30 to see just how good Stevie Nicks is!)
Lindsey Buckingham’s performance is as lively and energetic as ever! His sublime melodies are what makes not only his own songs fantastic, but also brings to life the ones Stevie Nicks writes. It’s clear that he loves the feeling of playing, and he certainly gets off on the praise poured upon him after one of his illustrious guitar solos where he charges around the stage like a wild bull at times. His guitar work is faultless and original throughout, but the two standout performances are in ‘Big Love’ and ‘I’m So Afraid’. For ‘Big Love’, he stands alone to introduce it as being misinterpretated over the years, stating that the lyric, ‘Looking out for Love’ is not about him looking for love, but being against it, watching out for it! This refreshed version, that he’s been playing live for several years, differs from the album in that it’s just Buckingham and his guitar with no backing band, playing at an increased tempo that’s almost Flamenco in style such is its intricacy. The next jaw dropping piece of guitar work comes with ‘I’m So Afraid’. Again this is a song that has been reimagined from the original album version, but to a much greater effect. Now, it’s much more poignant and sinister with a guitar solo that rivals anything that’s ever been heard before, played in such a thunderous, pounding, yet structured manner. At the very end when the drums roll and Buckingham wails, the crowd are literally brought to their feet to rapturously applause the performance! It makes me wonder why he’s never really been mentioned when talking of the great guitar legends of the past. He always seems to be overlooked, but he’s certainly well within the same bracket and calibre as the Jimi Hendrix’s and Santana’s of this world!
The show is littered with anecdotes before each song, which gives interesting insights into how certain things came about. Buckingham states that the album ‘Tusk’ went against what the ‘businessmen’ in the music industry wanted them to do after ‘Rumours’, where they wanted another album of similar style. However, the band stood firm, going against the theory that if something works then run it into the ground. The success and continued relevance of ‘Tusk’ has proved to be a masterstroke. This led to a fantastic version of the single of the same name, which showed the original footage of the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band playing on the screen behind for the songs big orchestral finale.
Nicks shares insights into the new song, ‘Without You’, which was originally written before her and Buckingham even joined ‘Fleetwood Mac’. This lost demo somehow went missing forty years ago and ended up on YouTube without Nicks knowing. The middle of her story is interrupted by an ardent fan from Northern England shouting, ‘We Fuckin Love You!’ prompting both Buckingham and Nicks to jokingly repeat the phrase in their best broad northern accents. It was actually not a bad interpretation for two West Coast Americans! They continue the story to say that Mick Fleetwood insisted on a re-recording of the song, which has been included on the latest 4 track EP, ‘Extended Play’, released earlier in the year.
Just before the close we’re treated to one of Stevie Nicks’ solo songs, ‘Stand Back’, before the renowned, ‘Go Your Own Way’ sees them off, a track written by Buckingham directed at Nicks after their split on the ‘Rumours’ album. Whereas Nicks went down the tranquil, peaceful route of writing about their break up with the likes of ‘Dreams’, Buckingham went with the all out assault of rocking out to get things off his chest! It’s still a mystery how this album ever got made, let alone how they remained together for a number of years afterwards!
An obvious encore followed where it was Mick Fleetwood’s turn to take centre stage for ‘World Turning’ where he’s left alone onstage for his phenomenal drum solo, which is one of the spectacles of the show, but his drumming was extraordinary throughout. The same could be said for bassist Jon McVie, who Fleetwood acknowledges as being the backbone of Fleetwood Mac. ‘Don’t Stop’ is played to end the night, one of the more favoured songs from the ‘Rumours’ album, but unfortunately we’re not treated to Christine McVie returning for it, which she did in London the week before this show. We assumed that was that, but shortly after they returned for two more. Firstly, the lost track on ‘Rumours’, which ended up as a B-side, ‘Silver Springs’ was perfectly delivered, followed by a song that Buckingham announces as being a tribute to his relationship with Stevie Nicks, written ten years ago, aptly named, ‘Say Goodbye’, a heart wrenching series of aching words about letting go of illusions and the past in order to grow. This stripped back acoustic version is far more sincere than the album version and I bet several would’ve shed a tear given its topic and the evident love that’s still there between these two astonishing individuals.
After three hours worth of hits, it’s safe to say that the show was a major success, especially with the applause and adulation they received at the end. There’s such a deep bond and connection that binds ‘Fleetwood Mac’ to its fans. It’s difficult to describe but they invoke feelings and emotions that few bands can do, possessing a unique ability to take you away from the conscious mind, whisking you willingly into a world that’s undoubtedly more peaceful and free from troubles. It pays testament to them that every one of us could probably name at least ten songs each that would be up there with our favourites, which they didn’t get round to playing, yet we still go away more than satisfied, and in truth could’ve sat there all night if it was possible. That fact alone surely makes them arguably the greatest band of all time, and the fact they’ve overcome so much in the face of adversity, are still performing to this level in their 60s and 70s, and still being extremely relevant by influencing the next generation just supports that claim. As Lindsey Buckingham hinted, a new album may be on the horizon, but I’m sure the fans will already be looking forward to the next tour a couple of years down the line, given that they’re pure box office entertainment. Hopefully, age will not be a factor in halting further tours, but on this evidence, there’s still plenty more life left in them. Never forget, ‘You will never break the chain!’