My first live Fleetwood Mac experience was in Perth in the late naughties, with the classic line-up minus Christine McVie. It was pretty damn good. The second time was a few years ago in Melbourne with Christine McVie back in the band, and that time it was damn near perfect. They started with The Chain and finished with Christine McVie sitting at the piano singing a faultless version of Songbird. I still get goosebumps every time I think about it.
Stevie Nicks seems to get the most attention, and it’s always a genuine thrill to hear her hit certain notes and deliver that signature sound that’s been part of our lives for so long, but the star of the show for me both of those first two times I saw Fleetwood Mac was Lindsey Buckingham. He brought an energy to his performance that was thrilling to the point of being ever so slightly terrifying. Based on my experience of seeing those two shows, Fleetwood Mac live without Lindsey Buckingham seemed like an unimaginable prospect, which is I guess why Fleetwood Mac needed to hire two people to replace him.
So as the lights went out at Rod Laver arena on Monday night I was more than mildly curious to see how the band would look and sound without Lindsey in it. My answer came about ninety seconds later when Neil Finn oh-so-convincingly sang the opening line of The Chain. “Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise…” Having grown up on a steady diet of Split Enz and Crowded House I’m pre-disposed to loving whatever Neil Finn does, so admittedly my opinion might be a bit tainted, but I thought he nailed it. His interplay with Stevie Nicks both in banter and in song looked comfortable and real to me, and he had that trademark Neil Finn earnestness and enough raw talent going on to make me almost forget about the elephant that was not in the room. Almost. But you can’t call it Fleetwood Mac without some searing lead guitar work, and that’s where their other new recruit comes in.
Mike Campbell’s moment to shine was when he launched into Oh Well, and when he started singing he sounded so much like Peter Green that I think my heart might have stopped for a tiny moment. The effortless cool and technical excellence that made Mike Campbell so entertaining to watch in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers was very much on display, but it’s easy to forget just how good he is in the context of being amongst so many other great players in Fleetwood Mac. (One constant across the three times I have seen this band live is that John McVie always looks like he’s strolled off a golf course and right onto the stage. I love that!)
Fleetwood Mac know how to put on a great show, but if I told you the band had my full attention all night I’d be lying. Two songs into their set a guy and girl in front of us sprung up from their seats to have a bit of a dance, thereby completely obliterating my view of the stage. It didn’t bother me because A.) I totally get that people want to dance – it’s a concert – so I say let them dance and enjoy their moment. And B.) For me it wasn’t really about the visuals anyway. With all due respect to Stevie Nicks, I already know what she looks like and I know she’s more than likely just twirling around with her cape so I don’t get the feeling I’m missing out on some amazing visual treat, and even if I am I can always refer to the screens to the side of stage.
The guy sitting next to me did not share these feelings. He tugged on the shirt of the guy dancing in front of us and said somewhat aggressively, “Hey mate, sit down, would you? I can’t see anything!” His girlfriend turned around and stated the obvious, “It’s a concert!”, and spun right back around and kept on dancing. (I’m totally team her at this point.) Then one of those yelled conversations that can only happen at a concert takes place between the guy in front of me and the guy next to me. Talky spit was flying about everywhere along with lines like “I paid good money for these seats!”, “So did we!”, and “Get up and dance yourself then, dickhead!” Thankfully things did not escalate as I feared they might and the guy and the girl soon acquiesced and resumed their seats, looking a little glum at the idea of the cranky random behind them forcing them to sit down.
Then a funny thing happened. The band start playing Everywhere and all around us people stood up and started dancing. (I’d have thought that Dreams would have been the song to do that, but whatever…) I found this to be extremely entertaining, mostly because the dancing was so bad. There’s a very particular dance a man does when he’s been forced onto his feet by a woman and would actually much rather be sitting down. The shoulders bounce up and down and there’s this little nervous foot-shuffle that can only be borne out of pure embarrassment. I found it fascinating. A show within a show.
With half of Rod Laver arena now dancing badly, the people in front of us turned and gave the guy next to me a look that screamed “So what have you got to say about that then, huh?” and he replied out loud with “OK, sure, get up and dance, have fun, whatever…” which is exactly what they did, not just for that song but for pretty much the rest of the show. (But not during Mick Fleetwood’s seventeen year long drum solo, not even Mick himself could stand up for that long.)
Just when I thought things were calming down the guy right behind me decides to sing along to Rhiannon in a completely random key at the absolute top of his lungs. As with the dancing, I get that this guy is having a moment, and my take on it is to let him have it. Who knows how many years this guy has waited to see this song performed live or what might have been going on in his life in the lead-up to this concert? Maybe it’s his first concert. Maybe he’s just had his ninth round of chemo. You just never know, so you know what…? Go ahead and belt it out, dude.
Returning my attention to the stage, it occurred to me that there is no other band on earth that has a story like Fleetwood Mac’s. So many incredible musicians have passed through that band over the years, and they somehow survived it all and kept on touring. Seeing Neil Finn leading the band in Don’t Dream It’s Over and hearing Stevie Nicks sing the third verse is evolution personified. Even if you’re not a fan you’d have to admit that Fleetwood Mac are the world’s most resilient band, and that’s gotta be worth dancing badly and singing out of key for.