Fleetwood Mac at the RDS review - 'one of the stand-out shows of the year'
Thunder only happens when it's raining? Neither happened last night in Dublin as Fleetwood Mac brought their classic 1970s Californian rock swagger to the Royal Dublin Society.
In what was surely one of the stand-out shows of the year this far, at 8.10pm they opened with The Chain and didn't let up until they encored with Don't Stop and All Over Again two hours later.
The last song Fleetwood Mac played before they went off pre-encore was the bad vibes rage-fest that was Go Your Own Way.
Try, for one moment, to picture yourself inside Stevie Nicks's head as she sang along with newbie Neil Finn to a song that her ex Lindsey Buckingam wrote about her, many bad moons ago.
As she told Rolling Stone in 1997 about Go Your Own Way: “I very, very much resented him [Buckingham] telling the world that ‘packing up, shacking up’ with different men was all I wanted to do. He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him.”
Seeing them onstage was almost enough. Stevie Nicks looked every inch the mystic goddess in a trance, refusing to bow to convention. Stevie exuded a feminine majesty, like she was off to claim The Iron Throne right after she finished this enthralling performance in front of her 40,000 devotees who would lay their lives down for the Blonde Queen of 1970s cocaine rock.
To her left, Christine McVie was just as powerful. Flanked by John McVie on bass, Mick Fleetwood on kit, and new member, Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell and Crowded House's Neil Finn. (Finn even got to sing an acoustic version of his band's signature song Don't Dream It's Over, which Nicks joined him on. The crowd joined in on the 'hey nows'.)
Singing like a blues Elmer Fudd, the spindly legged Campbell belted out the 1969 Mac blues masterpiece of Oh Well:
"Now, when I talked to God, I knew He'd understand
He said, "Stick by my side and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
Nicks and McVie sang founding member Peter Green's Black Magic Woman together.
Then, Nicks and McVie did their own respective thing, playing all the hits. Gold Dust Woman was magnificent, with Nicks asking: “Did she make you cry?/Make you break down?/Shatter your illusions of love?”
Say You Love Me was beautiful, too, the Mac at their best, creating this sound that resonated.
As Ms McVie once explained of the song: “I started playing ‘Say You Love Me’ ... and fell right into it. I heard this incredible sound – our three voices – and said to myself, ‘Is this me singing?’ I couldn’t believe how great this three-voice harmony was. My skin turned to goose flesh, and I wondered how long this feeling was going to last.”
This feeling lasted for two hours last night at the RDS, primarily because Fleetwood Mac did not shrink from exposing themselves emotionally. This is because Fleetwood Mac songs tend to be magnificent melodic psychodramas that leave romantic souls bleeding to death on the side of the road.
Blood on the tracks was obligatory.
Fleetwood Mac have been writing about the wreckage of their own love lives (acted out in each-other's cocaine fuelled beds in the 1970s) long before Taylor Swift was a twinkle in her daddy's eye.
Showman Mick Fleetwood — proving a mere drumkit couldn't contain his towering nigh-7 foot charisma — played a 12 minute percussion solo that would have made Arcade Fire green; he also shouted stuff that got the crowd going ("Unleash the hounds! Unleash!", "Didn't we have fun?", and the rousing, "We’re a bunch of crazy people with a crazy history, but it’s nights like this that give us life’s breath.")
It was also a night of girl power. Christine (75 years of age) and Stevie (71) showed what bewitching enchantresses of song they are, and will always remain. The proof was provided irrefutably on songs like Landslide (“I was only 27 – I wrote that in 1973, a year before I joined Fleetwood Mac,” Nicks once said. “You can feel really old at 27.”) Then on the haunting Gypsy (which Christine sang) and Everyone (Christine again - hearing her sing this last night you can see why Nicks once said that "Everyone shows you that Christine is the hit songwriter in Fleetwood Mac") to Rhiannon; more mysticism, this time from Welsh mythology, from Nicks. On Hold Me you had Christine singing the song she wrote about the demise of her relationship with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. This is Fleetwood Mac and they are drawn to past pain in their lyrics like a moth to a flame.
The eternally mystical ("the eternal romantic", as Mick called her last night) Ms Nicks must have felt some sort of sweet release without a certain Lindsey Buckingham onstage with her.
Imagine Nicks being chained so publicly to Mr Buckingham night after night on tour for so many decades — whereby these two famous ex lovers sang out the often toxic pain between them in front of thousands of people; the toxic histrionics between ex lovers that of course made 1977’s Rumours album the bitter masterpiece that it was.
So, with Lindsey no longer in the band, no longer onstage, (he was fired last year after a typically Fleetwood Mac disagreement over the band's tour) the dynamic is different obviously.
Having Neil Finn of Crowded House there to sing Lindsey Buckingham’s parts felt a bit like having a random actor from another series replace Jon Snow opposite Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Dragons, in Game of Thrones.
Don’t get me wrong: Neil Finn is a fabulous vocalist for sure but he is not Lindsey Buckingham and he doesn’t have the epic romantic history with Stevie Nicks and all the baggage that comes with it. And how could they possibly hope to, given the weight of history? Once upon a time, Nicks wrote Dreams – "dreams of loneliness like a heartbeat drives you mad" – about the split with Buckingham after seven years. In response, Buckingham wrote Go Your Own Way: "You can call it another lonely day/You can go your own way."
So when Finn and Nicks sing Go Your Own Way and Dreams as they did last night to huge applause, it can't begin to have the same toxic lunacy as when Nicks and Buckingham did in 1977.
“Even though Go Your Own Way was a little angry, it was also honest,” Nicks wrote in the liner notes to the Rumours reissue in 2013. “So then I wrote Dreams, and because I’m the chiffony chick who believes in fairies and angels, and Lindsey is a hardcore guy, it comes out differently. Lindsey is saying go ahead and date other men and go live your crappy life, and [I’m] singing about the rain washing you clean. We were coming at it from opposite angles, but we were really saying the same exact thing.”
At least Nicks no longer has to share a stage with her ex Mr Buckingham. Last night at the RDS I pictured myself inside the head of Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie ("the true backbone of the band" as Mick Fleetwood told the crowd) watched and listened to his ex wife Christine sing Don't Stop from the Rumours album of forty years ago about the sad end of their marriage:
"If you wake up and don't want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You'll see things in a different way.'
Don't Stop was played as one of the encores last night. A few songs previously Christine sang You Make Lovin' Fun about her torrid if short-lived affair with the band's lighting technician Curry Grant.
"Sweet wonderful you
You make me happy with the things you do
Oh, can it be so?
This feeling follows me wherever I go."
(Mick Fleetwood later joked to Q magazine : "Knowing John, he probably thought it was about one of her dogs." Rolling Stone magazine wrote that to "protect John’s feelings, Christine told him [John] it was about her dog.")
Watching Nicks perform last night you wondered what went through her head when she sang these songs? The wounds have obviously long since healed. Nicks said onstage with Buckingham in New York's Madison Square Gardens in 2013 "This war is pretty good!" as she introduced Landslide.
Last night in the RDS, she dedicated the song to her friend Joe Elliott of Def Leppard.
Fleetwood Mac also played last night a version of Monday Morning, Buckingham's blues from the 1975 self-titled album which foretold the break-up with Nicks ("First you love me, then you say it's wrong. I can't go on believing for long.") Again, I had to wonder how Nicks felt to hear this inner turmoil put to song about her, all these years on? Or even more painfully to hear Neil Finn sing the words Lindsey Buckingham wrote on Second Hand News about her on Rumours: “One thing I think you should know: I ain’t gonna miss you when you go"? Or even more intriguing when she sings the words she wrote about Buckingham on Gold Dust Woman: “Rulers make bad lovers. You better put your kingdom up for sale"? (When you hear Stevie Nicks sing words like that, and indeed words from Dreams like “But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness, like a heartbeat drives you mad in the stillness of remembering what you had and what you lost”, it is not difficult to see why so many female artists have drawn inspiration from her, idolized her.
“She’s like your fairy-princess godmother,” Courtney Love once said of Nicks, “who lives in a magical kingdom somewhere and has, like, fabulous romances.”
Nicks still has all that magic, and more as do her band. The ghosts of the past still haunt them, which is part of the enduring appeal of this legendary act. But long may Fleetwood Mac continue to go their own way.