Fleetwood Mac recently played five nights in New Zealand – four of which in Auckland. They usually play one or two nights when they reach our shores, but this time they had a Kiwi among their ranks and all the proud New Zealanders wanted to see him.
The current touring line-up of the Mac was established when the band fired Lindsey Buckingham, apparently for not getting into the spirit of the band’s 50th anniversary and refusing to play material prior to his tenure with the band. Out went Buckingham, and brought in to replace him were Split Enz / Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, and Tom Petty sideman Mike Campbell. It’s a measure of how strong Buckingham was on both vocals and guitar, that the band split his responsibilities across two people (lead guitar work could easily have been handled by their touring guitarist, Neale Heywood).
So, with a bit of new blood in the ranks, Fleetwood House and The Heartbreaker hit Auckland’s Spark Arena. Strangely, they opted to play exactly the same setlist for each of those nights – an odd choice for a band with such a wealth of material. The Peter Green-era material promised for their half-century anniversary was well received, and great to see. I already knew they were playing Man Of The World, and Black Magic Woman seemed an obvious choice, but it was the inclusion of Oh Well – my favourite single from that era of the band – that really put a smile on my face. This proved to be Mike Campbell’s showcase, and he played it perfectly. Given how the Buckingham / Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac are so very different to that original blues explosion version, I never thought I’d see any incarnation of the band play Oh Well.
After a shaky start – particularly in respect to Christine McVie’s voice – the band settled down and they eventually sounded almost as good as ever. I’m a huge fan of Lindsey Buckingham, and I think there’s an urgent, blind-corner aspect to his presence and his playing that was still missing. The subs still did a great job though.
It almost seemed like a given that Neil Finn would be given the opportunity to perform Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over – which he did on an acoustic, with organ accompaniment from Ricky Peterson, to a rousing Kiwi chorus – but I was surprised to see the whole band back Finn on a cover of Split Enz’s I Got You. Finn’s introduction to song also explained that when the song would play on MTV in the 1980’s, Stevie Nicks would add her own background harmony, which she added during the night’s performance.
The encore started with the band’s tribute to Tom Petty – a cover of Free Fallin’ – complete with a photo montage of Campbell playing with Petty through the years, and Petty’s many appearances with Nicks. A lady behind me in the seats, probably unaware of Campbell’s credentials, saw one of the photos of Petty laughing with Nicks, and asked ‘Did she date him?’ I laughed at this typically Kiwi question – given reality TV’s stranglehold on Kiwi culture – but they did have a long and enduring friendship at least.
Obviously, with a Tom Petty song, a Crowded House song, a Split Enz song and three Peter Green-era songs, something had to move aside and unfortunately despite playing four songs from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, and seven songs from Rumours, the band neglected to play any material from 1979’s Tusk, my second-favourite of the Buckingham/Nicks albums (after its diamond-selling predecessor).
The thing I love the most about Tusk, aside from its rousing title track, is the band’s decision to hold back and do something a little more experimental and home-made after the success (and marital strife) of Rumours. Influenced by the post-punk movement out of New York’s C.B.G.B. scene (particularly Talking Heads), Buckingham’s back-to-basics approach to songwriting, and home-studio recording, gives the album a measure of charm that goes against the usual sheen of their albums.
It’s a record I always enjoy pulling off the shelf, even if I always think I have it on the wrong speed, when Christine’s Over & Over lumbers out of the speakers. Fingers crossed the band will give the album the love it deserves when they next visit New Zealand, hopefully with Buckingham in tow, licking his wounds.
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