After the Beatles disbanded, Fleetwood Mac took over the reins of pop music. Since the seventies their records have been played continuously. Some fans know the songs better than they know their own offspring while their offspring now play (well, stream) the records themselves. So it is with that mantle of expectation that the hordes descended on the O2 for two immeasurably anticipated sold out shows last Friday and Saturday. The touts couldn’t even get in on this ‘Gold Dust’ action.
These two dates kicked of the European leg of their World tour.
There were two negatives to this concert that I’ll deal with initially so I can move onto the positives because overall this was still a great gig.
Rumours, their 1976 album, is in the top ten best selling records of all time. It has sold over 40 million copies and a 2013 reissue went straight into the UK album charts at number 3. But that record is more significant than the others not just because of the numbers: it froze in time the tumultuous backdrop through which this band have always existed.
All three relationships came crashing down at the same time: Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s decade together was ending, Christine and John McVie’s marriage was over and Mick Fleetwood and Jenny Boyd were getting divorced. Emotions were running high, to put it mildly.
So the band decided to lock themselves in a studio and create something out of the turmoil. They used copious amounts of cocaine to ensure the twisted reality of it all was kept at bay during the recording sessions. What resulted was lyrical devastation and musical bliss. As a whole the album was sensational and enduring because it was so loaded and the melodies soared. It remains the greatest breakup record ever (Blood on the Tracks equals it because of my Dylan bias).
So with that in mind the crowd watches as Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham walk hand in hand onto the stage in Dublin. They are clearly playing make up for the sake of this reunion tour and as the show progressed it became clear from their back and forwards that this is a tenuous façade.
We don’t really care though. We know the band was incestuous and promiscuous but we hadn’t paid to see a monumental counselling session in which they work out their issues on stage. Rumours is great whether you know the sordid history or not. The songs stand alone, as good records do, so with each five minute introduction and anecdote the patience of the crowd wears thin as we crave the music that resulted from their fallout.
The gig started with Second Hand News, The Chain and Dreams. Soon it became clear that Stevie Nicks is no longer at the peak of her vocal powers and she couldn’t hit the high notes we’re used to. Christine McVie’s vocals were clearly missed.
Fleetwood Mac are not the same band that locked themselves in a studio during 1976 and they seem to be struggling with change and particularly ageing. “The need to change” and embrace change became a mantra dished out from the stage when it was clear that those struggling with it the most weren’t the audience but the band themselves.
Where this concert came alive was in the less celebrated songs. Tusk is belted out and extended in order to let the band’s anchor Mick Fleetwood thrive with a thumping drum solo. The visuals play a big part as a Roman army of trumpeters coalesce on the screen in time to Mick’s mighty beat in a rhythmic march at an American football stadium.
Gold Dust Woman turns into an 8 minute hazy jam and the band seems finally at one doing what has always kept them together: playing their music. A sublime sultry calm descends around the O2 as Nicks (referred to by Mick as “our poet, our lady”) twists, slides and glides with her silhouette reflected on the big screen in a golden outline. And there it is, why we come to live shows rather than just play the hits because a song that existed off your radar comes into a new focus and you will meander back to that favourite album of yours with fresh ears.