Live Review: Fleetwood Mac Leads a Loaded Reunion at Oracle Arena

Fleetwood Mac
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Oracle Arena

Better than: listening to a cassette tape of Rumours on repeat on a long drive down I-5.

Stevie Nicks is going for it. She's been dressed in all black all night — a confusing, drapey, sequined and, yes, Stevie Nicks-esque shawl over a dress, whose shimmering tendrils she seems to be handling like rosary beads — but for “Gold Dust Woman” she's brought out a sheer gold shawl, and she is putting it to work. With her back to the crowd at Oracle Arena, she spreads her arms out wide before bringing both hands to her blonde head for something that looks like the marriage of headbanging and the gesture one performs when experiencing a migraine; the midway point between rocking the fuck out and being in severe pain. 

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Which is, really, the main thrust of the mood at a Fleetwood Mac show — at least, at the first Fleetwood Mac show in a decade in a half that includes the original '70s lineup: Christine McVie, notably fresh-faced behind the keyboard after 16 years away; Lindsey Buckingham, whose virtuoso fingerpicking on the electric guitar is rendered nearly unfair when combined with the fact that he apparently doesn't age at all; John McVie, perhaps the only member of Fleetwood Mac who could reasonably be described as understated, despite providing the crucial bass heartbeat to so many hit songs; Nicks, whose stage presence alone makes Lady Gaga seem like John Kerry; and drummer Mick Fleetwood himself, who — dressed in short pants and red sneakers, wispy sideburn hair a-flying, taking indulgent solos — was quite possibly having more fun than anyone in the room, letting out animalistic yelps between taps of the hi-hat and punctuating his between-song banter with a gesture recognizable as the universal sign for “I am on Splash Mountain and we have just started going downhill.”

In short, emotions ran high last night. From Nicks dedicating “Landslide” to her first real boyfriend at Atherton High School, to Fleetwood's assertion that things get crazy when you let the drummer up front (his headset mic failed to work at some point, and briefly holding court at the tip of the stage seemed to make many people very happy), the whole thing felt loaded.

This is, of course, difficult to separate from the soap opera that is Fleetwood Mac's history, the romantic entanglements and illicit affairs and buckets upon buckets of cocaine that somehow went up people's noses and came back out transformed into songs as sunny as “Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” There's a theatrically implied underbelly to nearly everything they do, and no matter how much you've painted Stevie Nicks into some kind of fantasy-mom corner — and no matter what percentage of the 19,000 people around you appear to be squeaky-clean retirees with varying degrees of former hippiedom in their pasts, all cutting loose with widely varying degrees of rhythm — there's the ever-present knowledge that yeah, she partied way, way harder than you ever will, and the same probably goes for a lot of these old-school fans. Lived to tell the tale, too.

Which is why you indulge Nicks when she starts telling the same story, verbatim, that she apparently told last week in L.A.: About being a poor student at San Jose State University (crowd: “woooooo!”) and driving up to San Francisco to shop at the Velvet Underground, which was the coolest and most expensive rock star store in the world, as evidenced by having Janis Joplin and Grace Slick as customers. About how she couldn't afford anything, but she stood there in that store and she knew she'd be able to someday. Cue a curtsy, plus exaggerated fondling of her sequined outfit. Cue “Gypsy,” with the opening lines “So I'm back, to the Velvet Underground…”

Can you blame her if it's cheesy? You can't. You can't blame any of them, especially not Christine McVie, her alto and perfect hair seemingly untouched by the ravages of time, when she launches into “Say You Love Me,” or sits down at the piano for “Little Lies,” and you realize that half the Fleetwood Mac songs you hear so often they've become background music (in the best possible way) are driven by that almost unnervingly sweet, easy voice.

This requires ignoring the weird background visuals — gold dust for “Gold Dust Woman,” strange, unnecessary combinations of water droplets and psychedelic swirls of color for nearly everything else. It also requires removing yourself from the reality of, say, things that actually happened earlier in the day, back in 2014, like the grand jury's decision in the horrifying choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of plainclothes police officer in New York. It requires shutting off your brain for long enough to live inside a year when Ronald Reagan was a great hope for a great many people.
This will, you see, help with getting into the proper headspace for receiving Nicks' lines about how Christine McVie came back to the band in January of 2014 — less than two years after Nicks told Rolling Stone that was about as likely as “an asteroid hitting the earth” -— because “when you put something out into the universe, it comes true, and you Fleetwood Mac fans all woke up one day and wanted that. You have magic powers. If you want something bad enough, dreams come true.”

If nothing else, it requires believing that Fleetwood Mac believes those things. And last night, there were absolutely zero doubts to be had about that. 

Critic's Notebook

— They played for a solid three-plus hours, with minimal breaks. Wide, wide grins all around. 

— Three backup vocalists, though tucked at the back of the stage, added a layer of epicness to the most bombastic choruses. Bonus: One of them was Nicks's red-haired sister-in-law, Lori Nicks.

 

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