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Finn Leads the new Mac Attack!

Fleetwood Mac is one of the most popular and successful bands of the last four decades. Their mega-hit albums Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumors (1977), their masterpiece, Tusk (1979), and follow-up Mirage (1982) were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely, particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the 70’s.

FinnMac Classic Lineup

While the band began life as a British blues act in 1967, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership of both British and American musicians that together had global appeal. Peter Green, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan – many guitarists and members rotated in and out of this ever-changing band in the early years. In 1975, desperate to save the band after many drug and alcohol fueled hard times, core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio. There had already been nine Fleetwood Mac albums. The rest as they say is history. Or is it?

FinnMac Lindsay 2014

The Mac continued to release material and tour on and off again with or without Lindsay and Christine though to 2015. We saw them with the entire classic lineup and that I assumed would be the last time.

FinnMac Classic Band 2014

Then several things apparently happened, which led to the sacking of Lindsay Buckingham last week:

  • Lindsay reports that the Mac will record a new album for 2015, and stage a last tour (yeah, right!)
  • Stevie reports that she is reluctant to work on new material, lest it cloud memories of the old, and why do it anyway?
  • Lindsay/Christine report that they recorded many songs, none of them with Stevie.
  • Lindsay / Christine release an album and tour in 2017, just last year!
  • In 2018, in April it is announced that Lindsay has been “sacked” from the group, and the next tour due planned to kick off this year (2018). The reason given – arguments of the set list (the set list, really?!?!)
  • It is joyfully announced by the way that Split Enz / Crowded House / solo genius from down under, Neil Finn will join the band for the new tour, and will be accompanied by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty fame!!!!

For many fans this will erroneously be considered bad news. The Mac without Lindsay, didn’t they try that after Tango in the Night, to disastrous results?

FinnMac Stevie 2014

FinnMac Neil Finn Early ShotYes, and no. Well at least, they did not have the new secret weapon – they did not fill the guitarist/singer role with a star or stars adequate to the task. Enter Neil Finn, who is easily the greatest musician, along with brother Tim, to work in and outside of New Zealand…. basically ever. I would consider them The Beatles of ANZ. Neil’s work is not nearly as well known as the Mac. Neither Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn, nor Neil Finn played to stadiums outside ANZ to my knowledge. Here in the states, the typical venues for anything Neil Finn would fit 2,500-5,000 patrons. No “sheds,” basketball arenas or much less stadiums for the genius from down under. It’s the same story for his brother Tim Finn, the greatest tenor vocalist of the 80’s.

All that will change for Neil with the Mac, as long as the publicity is done right and they get fans to the shows. Here it will likely be the Oracle or SAP arenas, particularly if fans “get it” and the publicity is well handled – that is important. So far, there are good words coming out of the camp, with some expressions of excitement.

FinnMac Neil Finn

But listen people – this should not be hard — Neil Finn is a major songwriter, vocal talent, and in fact an amazing guitarist. If all you know from him is “I Got You,” or “One Step Ahead” with his brother in the Enz, or “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” from the debut Crowded House album, you are sadly out of touch with this, one of the world’s greatest songwriting and performing talents – you have some catching up to do! Try Crowded House albums Together Alone(1993) and incredibly, the more recent Intriguer(2010). How about his solo work, Try Whistling This, it is achingly gorgeous. Compare the newer Housesong “Amsterdam” to anything off the new Buckingham/McVie album, as pleasant as it is, and it is a stellar album by the way. But again, check it against new lead man Neil Finn, and hear the difference.

You can easily imagine, if your ears are tuned, Neil will clearly grace anything the band wants to do which covers Buckingham, Green, Welch or any of the talented crew that have joined and left the Mac’s lineup. Reportedly, unshackled by a picky approach to the set list, there will be surprises. Why not go back and do “Hypnotized” along with other early gems? Finn can nail all of them.

FinnMac Christine

Now, add to this that we are not only getting Neil Finn. On top of that we will have Mike Campbell, the long time guitarist from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Anyone who saw Tom perform, rest his dear soul, knows what an amazing lead player Mike is. Now this is getting exciting, concert fans.

See this lineup – maybe the last you say? No, more likely just another chapter. But, the Mac lives on, above and below the equator, and we are all better for it.

p.s. fans of all things Lindsay, of course he will do a solo tour, so…. peace.

FinnMac Lindsay Roots

Fleetwood Mac’s Public Rumours

FleetwoodMac_RumoursCover_72dpiFleetwood Mac is one of the most popular and successful bands of the last four decades. Their mega-hit albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977) were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely, particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the 70’s. Recently the band re-released these albums in deluxe collector’s editions, and they each have considerable merit.

While the band began life as a British blues act in 1967, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership of both British and American musicians that together had global appeal. The breakthrough came when core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio.

FleetwoodMac_Rosebud5_72dpi
The Rosebud Film by Michael Collins 1977

As if to underscore a fresh start, the newly constituted band titled their breakthrough album Fleetwood Mac released in 1975. After extensive touring to back the record, it reached #1 on the U.S. charts. It’s a brilliant collection of enchanting stories, rockers FleetwoodMac_Rosebud2_72dpiand ballads, led by the defining Stevie Nicks composition “Rhiannon” along with Christine’s “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head.” Lindsey Buckingham’s brooding rocker “I’m So Afraid” became a concert staple featuring an extended guitar solo highlighting his unique fingerpicking style. Everyone I knew had that record, whether they were into freak music, prog, or just good rock n’ roll, such was the breadth of their appeal.

FleetwoodMac_Rosebud1_72dpiFrom the moments just before and after their new union, each band member went through tumultuous events in their romantic relationships, and these were covered extensively at the time, and to this day in the media. The lyrics reflected this well, as so many of their songs were about love and relationships, and were or seemed to be autobiographical. Fans knew the stanzas by heart; they read the stories and followed the band partly due to these dramas, cheering the musicians on and sometimes watching for a stray glance between Stevie and Lindsey, or other signs of emotional import. This became a poignant kind of theater, illuminating life’s triumphs and travails, starring a cast of rock heroes. It became well known that drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife had an affair as the old band disintegrated, leading to their divorce, and that John and Christine McVie ended their marriage. In addition Buckingham and Nicks broke off their romantic relationship. Mick summed it up himself during interviews saying “the whole band’s gone through a complete emotional trauma,” adding that being in Fleetwood Mac was “more like being in group therapy!” All of this transpired between 1974 and 1976, and the drama was captured in perfect prose and harmony on their next album Rumours released in 1977.

FleetwoodMac_Rosebud3_72dpiIt’s a testament to the determination of these artists that they were able to pull it together and record an album like Rumours with everything that was apparently going on in their personal lives. The lyrics Stevie and Lindsey wrote often directly referenced their romantic crisis, ruminating on the reasons for failed relationships in the upbeat “Go Your Own Way” and ethereal “Dreams,” and offering stark commentary on cocaine addiction in “Gold Dust Woman.” Christine McVie’s relatively cheerful songs “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” the latter featuring her skills on the funky clavinet lift the mood, along with Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again.” Concert staple and band composition “The Chain” summed up their collective romantic travails – “Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies.” The music was a spectacular demonstration of the classic rock form, tinged by the California sound featuring the lovely three-part harmonies of Buckingham, Nicks and McVie, all backed by Mick Fleetwood’s steady laid back beat, and John McVie’s resonant warm bass. The album was their first #1 in the UK while lasting most of the year on the U.S. charts, reaching over 40 million sales over time, becoming one of the most successful rock albums of our era.

FleetwoodMac_FMLiveCover_72dpiThe next album Tusk took a more adventurous direction, and could be compared to The Beatles White Album in the breadth of its music and composition, and the difficulty the band had getting through the long period of tinkering and recording in the studio. Anything was bound to sell less than Rumours, particularly a double album, but that is not a reflection on the contents, which are startling, and arguably represent their greatest work. This version of the band recorded their first live album on the tour to support Tusk. Appropriately titled Live, the double album is a sprawling, nearly complete set list from that time, along with an additional studio recording of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” While it’s a fitting document of the band’s live performances, the newly uncovered Rumours concert recordings caught the band on the upswing, and are superior for the energy and verve on display.

FleetwoodMac_RumoursLive77_72dpiThat audio recording, simply titled Fleetwood Mac Live – 1977 Rumours World Tour, is part of the multi-disc re-release of the Rumours album completed in 2015. Coming directly on the heels of the album’s recording, the songs are culled from multiple shows on the tour, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Nashville and Columbia, South Carolina. The live renditions are much tighter than the Tusk tour Live album, containing aggressive, true to studio versions of “Monday Morning,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and a nearly eight minute version of Nicks’ classic “Rhiannon,” introduced by Stevie simply, “This is a song about a witch,” and ending with some of her most gravelly rock n’ roll vocals on record. Hard, driven versions of “The Chain” and “World Turning” are also highlights of the set, along with a straight-ahead rendition of “Never Going Back Again,” a song that Lindsey expanded into an acoustic jam on later tours.

ON FILM

FleetwoodMac_TuskDocCover_72dpiFor years, the only officially available footage of this era’s lineup was part of a one-hour documentary made during the time of Tusk. Released by Warner Home Video on videotape, Fleetwood Mac Documentary and Live Concert captured the band in studio and on tour supporting their artistic masterpiece Tusk. Ten songs are presented in whole or in part highlighting Stevie’s songs “Sisters of the Moon,” “Angel,” and “Sara,” the latter clip used to make a video that found heavy rotation at MTV. Lindsey belts out his vocals for “Go Your Own Way,” and “Not That Funny,” a clip also used on MTV, and usually credited as being a response to the punk movement. A rousing rendition of “The Chain” captures the band as a whole, and Christine’s “Songbird” ends the show nicely, though marred by rolling end-credits.

Much of the “behind the scenes footage” is worthwhile, though some of it is superfluous, for instance we see Mick taking oxygen, Stevie fluffing her hair, and John taking a smoke backstage before an encore. Mick mugs for the camera when presented with a type of voodoo doll, before explaining how he ended up becoming the band’s manager. The in-studio clips are interesting, the best by far being Stevie working side by side with Lindsey, recording the actual vocal track for “Angel.” She then explains that though she usually writes “intense, serious, dark songs,” it was meant to be an “up” song that ended up having an eeriness to it. Fans cheer as Lindsey hugs her during the live performance. In one segment, Lindsey says his real value to the band is not as a guitar player or writer, but “as someone who can take x amount energy flowing through different people and somehow formulate to some degree how things should sound in studio.” Stevie is shown doing ballet, opining that it’s important that she have interests outside rock n’ roll, as a true Gemini. Christine is shown sailing and shares her origin as a bass player in a blues band prior to her college years and time as a window dresser, concluding with “I paid my dues.” But the real treat is the live performances, which are electrifying, and these remain the best official footage of the band in concert.

FleetwoodMac_Rumours_RosebudCover_72dpiMore recently, the Rosebud Film by Michael Collins was released as part of the aforementioned Rumours box set. Clocking in at just thirty minutes, it is a long sought 1977 documentary film created to promote the European leg of that tour. It includes interviews, rehearsal clips, and live performances of six songs. The opener “World Turning,” and closer “I’m So Afraid” document the band live at an outdoor festival. “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun” are very effectively captured indoors with an eerie moonlit tree-lined backdrop, which graced many a poster and promotional photo of the band at that time. These clips were also shown on late night TV music shows like The Midnight Special. As with the live disc, these performances are defining, energetic renditions of the selected tracks, while the band was truly in top form. In the best quote of the back stage interviews, Stevie comments on the band’s diverse wardrobe, “I know sometimes we look like Lindsey’s all Chinese guy in his Kimono, and I look like I’m going to a Halloween party, Christine looks like she’s going to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and Mick’s going to a Renaissance fair and John’s going to the beach!” While the Rosebud film and 1977 live audio are key for any fan or collector, in the case of video, the Tusk documentary is superior. Fans await an official release on more current media, as this gem is not yet officially available on DVD or streaming services.

The Mac continues to tour to this day, now back with the complete lineup after Christine McVie’s short retirement. Amazingly they sound as good in concert today as ever, another testament to this enduring ensemble.

Fleetwood Mac ...Today
Fleetwood Mac …Today

Fleetwood Mac Go On With The Show

Christine McVie
Christine McVie

Fleetwood Mac rolled into the Oakland Arena on December 3, 2014. The headline for this tour is “On With The Show” featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause, and after the opening track “The Chain” the band launched directly into one of her best, “You Make Loving Fun.” It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

FM_christinebackFor their set list, the band focused on their hits, which has been the norm for the last several tours. As such, the addition of Christine’s tracks “You Make Loving Fun,” “Everywhere,” “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” “Little Lies,” and as the second encore, a beautiful rendition of “Songbird,” with her on grand piano, front and center, helped to freshen the set list.

Mac's Songbird
Mc’Songbird

The rest of the song selections alternated between Stevie and Lindsey’s lead vocal tracks, all of which they have been featuring since 1998. My only wish would be for the band to pull out some more rare tracks, such as “Warm Ways,” “I Don’t Want to Know” or one of Christine’s tracks from Tusk, particularly “Brown Eyes.” I half expected they might pull out “Hypnotized” to pay tribute to Bob Welch who passed away in 2012, but not so. Having said all that, it’s understandable that they focused on their most reliable hits and crowd pleasers, now that they are five once more.

Lindsay Fingerpicking
Lindsay Fingerpicking

The lighting and staging for the show was top notch – the latest in movable screen panels and track lighting used to enrich the events on stage. The main feature was the huge hi-def projection system that filled the screen behind the risers, used for imagery that matched and accentuated the songs, and then also used for closed circuit video of the band in performance. This was particularly effective in capturing the band member’s skills and techniques with live close-ups of their playing.

FM_lindsayafraidAnd what a musical, lyrical performance it was. Lindsey was in top form with his amazing, dexterous fingerpicking style, the likes of which I’ve never seen from any other rock guitarist. Perennial favorites including the explosive acoustic guitar on “Big Love” or the rockin’ blues attack on “I’m So Afraid” fully displayed his remarkable skills and pliant voice. Stevie sounded as good as I’ve heard her, nailing classics like “Sisters of the Moon” and “Landslide” whether the phrase was soft or forceful. Christine sounded great and again made a big difference in the overall sound. Her backing vocals were also quite noticeable on the other songs that featured one of her band mates on lead vocals.

Stevie's Gypsy
Stevie’s Gypsy

What was really noticeable was how personable the band members were. Time was taken between tracks for some fun stories – the longest being Stevie’s intro to “Gypsy” during which she encouraged the audience to follow their dreams. She talked about how she and Lindsey got their start in the bay area, poor but working hard, and described the San Francisco shop “Velvet Underground” with it’s beautiful painted floor and stacks of rock frocks, where all the stars of the era like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and others shopped for their stage clothing. The already potent lyrics were made more meaningful by the intro:

So I’m back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was to the gypsy that I was

FM_fleetwoodThis is the stuff from which great live shows are made, and we got a bit from Christine and Lindsay as well, and at the end of the show receiving another heartfelt sendoff from Stevie and a final farewell from drummer Mick Fleetwood with his characteristic “The Mac is Back!” Indeed, they are.