Amidst an absolute thunder of drums, a sleek, racing Formula One bass line and a fuzzed-up guitar attack, a high male and low female voice coalesce in a gorgeous California sunshine harmony to deliver Fleetwood Mac’s key message: “You can never break the chain.”
Apparently not. They’ve been going 45 years in one incarnation or another, yet they still seem quite unlikely, a fundamentally disparate and unstable set of elements forced through sheer popularity to share a stage together with results that may well be greater than the sum of the parts but still teeter on the brink of a kind of explosive disintegration. This long-running soap opera of conflicting personalities and opposing musical styles remains extraordinarily alive and compelling.
Even without the perfect pop songs of Christine McVie (who left the soap at the end of the last century but is rumoured to be returning for a guest appearance at their London concerts this week) and unwilling to draw on nine early albums of blues rock, Fleetwood
Mac still seem to comprise at least three groups in one. There’s the British rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, looking all Chas & Dave in waistcoats and flat caps, driving everything along with a propulsive pub rock efficiency. Then there’s Lyndsey Buckingham’s new wave art rock energy, hopping up and down on the spot in tight pants and leather jacket as he rips out trippy, echoing guitar parts and sings snappy songs like he’s going to combust if he doesn’t get the words out. Meanwhile Stevie Nicks, the hippie wet dream now looking like a dark folk witch, still waving her scarves about and drawling poetic fantasies in a voice that no longer floats ethereally but cuts and thrusts with the Americana grit of a female Dylan. On paper, this is a combination that shouldn’t work. Yet
that sense of hanging together by a thread is part of what lends the old troupers such vitality. This may be the least comfortable excercise in nostalgia I have ever seen and all the better for it.
There is nothing smooth about Fleetwood Mac. Somehow, even after all this time, they don’t have the polish of a west coast harmonic rock machine like The Eagles. Their set is surprisingly gnarly and edgy, constantly being dragged between all these opposing musical poles. Indeed, they seem to delight in contrariness, filling up a nearly three hour set with offbeat selections from the provocatively odd and unloved Tusk and new material from a recent EP, frequently preceded by rambling monologues from Buckingham or Nicks that are longer and more involved than the songs themselves. “If we’re looking a little frazzled it might be because we are a little frazzled,” apologises Nicks, blaming the stresses on it being the first date of a European tour. But actually Fleetwood Mac are a group who are permanently frazzled by the intensity and complexity of their relationships, particularly that of teenage sweethearts Nicks and Buckingham, who still seem to be working out their separation and reconciliation onstage in the longest and most public group therapy session ever. Nicks introduces a new song, Without You, by telling us that “before fame and all the creepiness creeped in there was a really sweet boy and a really sweet girl” but then almost undermines the sentiment by briefly bickering with Buckingham about who said what when. “I always agree with you!” insists Buckingham. “No you don’t!” snorts Nicks.
The crowd love it, of course. When Nicks and Buckingham sing into the same microphone or walk out for encores hand in hand, it is the musical equivalent of seeing divorced parents back together. Their legendary album Rumours and long career of conflict and reconciliation have provided a narrative to parallel relationships in listeners’ lives, only with better melodies, virtuoso playing and even a startlingly impressive drum solo.
The audience delight in the continuing saga of Fleetwood Mac is manifest. What is even more striking is the band’s delight. Indeed, if there is a new development on their first tour in three years it is that they seem to be falling in love again. “There are still chapters left in the Fleetwood Mac book,” enthuses Buckingham. This one is going to run and run.