Fleetwood Mac: A kind of homecoming

Kiwis do love a local boy who’s made good. And Neil Finn looked like he couldn’t quite believe his luck as he helped front Fleetwood Mac at Spark Arena in Auckland last night.

And so it was only right that the show kicked off with The Chain—less a set-opener, more a statement of intent—with Finn taking male lead vocals in lieu of Lindsay Buckingham, who had better things to do with his time and hence made room for Finn on voice and Mike Campbell on lead guitar. And while Stevie Nicks (of whom much more later) contributed little to the song, Finn made it clear that he deserved his place in Fleetwood Mac.

And so the show pressed on. It’s always going to be a challenge to follow a song like The Chain; it’s a magnificent slow burn of a thing, Finn’s growl and Campbell’s resonator guitar driving it toward John McVie’s magnificent, although slightly low in the mix, bass riff over which Campbell soared and screamed. But a two-and-a-half hour, twenty-some-song set showed just why Fleetwood Mac are still relevant. The hits were sprinkled through the setlist—Little Lies followed The Chain; Go Your Own Way ended the main set; the show stopped, of course, after Don’t Stop—and along the way crowd favourites like You Make Loving Fun and Black Magic Woman filled out the set. There were reminders of the band Fleetwood Mac used to be, in the shape of the Peter Green classic Oh Well, ripped out in style by Campbell, and of the contributions of the new members—Finn got two nods, a duet on Split Enz’s I Got You with Nicks, and a solo, acoustic take on Don’t Dream It’s Over, a song which, befitting its status as the unofficial national anthem of Aotearoa, got a deservedly monstrous cheer; Campbell got an encore slot with Free Fallin’—were recognised.

But the original heart of the band still beats strong. Christine McVie was, of course, perfect, her keyboard work understated but beautifully underpinning the rich, intense—and, it must be said, occasionally muddily mixed—sound of the band. Her ex, John McVie, of course, had his moment in the sun early in the set with The Chain; the rest of the show saw him where, presumably, he’s happiest, locking into the rhythm of the drums and staying out of the spotlight.

Unlike, it must be said, Mick Fleetwood. It’s clearly his band—he and John McVie are the only original members left, and he’s very much the centre of attention whenever he can be. He seems quite happy to forget that, in 2019, drum solos just aren’t a thing any longer; his ten-minute thrash in the middle of World Turns came ever so close to, without ever actually crossing over into, self-indulgence. He’s clearly more than a little eccentric, but he’s Englishly charming enough to get away with it. He doesn’t quite know when to stop talking; at the end of the show, after everyone had left the stage, he stooped down to speak into Neil Finn’s microphone and tell the audience “We absolutely can’t do this in our living rooms, but we love what we do, so thank you very much.” And you’d genuinely believe he means it.

And then there’s Stevie Nicks. Simon and I were singularly unimpressed by Nicks when she played Spark Arena a couple of years ago solo, and, sadly, while she benefits enormously from being in the band that made her famous, many of the flaws of that show were on display again tonight. Her voice simply isn’t quite where it needs to be any longer, and when she tried to take lead vocals on The Chain, she simply caterwauled, a California Yoko Ono, with Gold Dust Woman—in many ways her signature tune—just sounding droney. But give her the right song, like Landslide, another duet with Finn, and she shows she does still have the ability to deliver a song, even if her range is narrowing with every year that goes by. She does, though, still have to make things about her. The first of two songs in the encore was Free Fallin’, a Tom Petty song to acknowledge Mike Campbell, for years Petty’s batman despite this not being a Campbell composition, and the projector screen behind the stage alternated between images of Petty with Campbell and Petty with Nicks. Yes, it’s Tom Petty’s song, but let’s never forget that he’s not just Tom Petty, he’s Stevie’s mate Tom Petty. If Fleetwood’s charm managed to save him from tipping over into self-indulgence, then Nicks would do well to learn a trick or two from him.

On balance, then, a very, very enjoyable show. Finn and Campbell fill the gap left by Buckingham quite splendidly, Te Awamutu’s finest clearly relishing a homecoming in style. Crowded Mac make for a very entertaining evening.

Fleetwood Mac perform at Spark Arena again on September 14th, 16th and 19th, followed by one show in Dunedin at Forsyth Barr Stadium on
September 21st.

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