If there’s one word that describes the members of Fleetwood Mac through the years, it’s this: drama. The band’s rise to superstardom has been chronicled many times, but the continued tension between band members (most notably Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) has been a source of ongoing conflict since they joined the group in the mid-’70s. However, any sense of lingering acrimony between the players after Buckingham’s dismissal from the group in January (and subsequent lawsuit by Buckingham citing breach of contract) was absent on Sunday night in Oakland. Not that one would expect pros such Fleetwood Mac to air their dirty laundry in front of a paying audience, but it was pretty obvious a major component of the group was missing. To fill the gap, the current Buckingham-less Mac found replacements for Lindsey who both hit all the right notes and brought a heavier sound to songs that are more Adult Contemporary in flair. Mike Campbell and Neil Finn are from musical backgrounds that are quite different from one another. Campbell’s career is mostly known for being the lead guitarist and songwriter of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Finn’s success is more new wave, with stints fronting Split Enz and Crowded House. Finn ably sang Lindsey’s songs and played mostly rhythm guitar, while Campbell filled the guitarist role Buckingham used to play in the group. Their addition to the group, while kind of a puzzler on paper, worked well in practice. Finn could sing in Buckingham’s key, and Campbell provided a more raw lead guitar sound to Fleetwood Mac classics. Would I have like to hear Buckingham singing “Monday Morning,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “Second Hand News?” Well, duh. Yeah. Of course I would! But Finn sang the songs with such gusto that the choice to put him in front of classic heavy hitters was the right one. In short, not only could he handle the job, he excelled at it. Sure, there are going to be purists who long for Buckingham’s return to the fold, but Fleetwood Mac has weathered changes in their line-up — with Buckingham, Nicks, Christine McVie leaving at various times. This tour, however, there are no pretensions the group can produce new music that can match the heyday of their 1975-1987 output — so they stuck to the hits on Sunday night, with a few deep cuts thrown in for good measure.
The band played for over two hours, and they started strong with “The Chain,” followed by “Little Lies,” “Dreams,” and “Second Hand News.” The hits kept on coming through “Black Magic Woman” and “Rhiannon.” And then, something unexpected happened: they played a deep cut from 1970. “Tell Me All The Things You Do” is a blues rock song that sounds like a heavier version of The Grateful Dead. But in the hands of the altered line-up, the band made it a blistering jam that reflected their more free-form ‘60s roots. Paired with an extended “World Turning” from the 1975 self-titled album, it proved to be a great transition into a Mick Fleetwood drum solo where he trotted out his Mad Dogs and Englishmen energy to really raise the energy level of the Oracle Arena. Mick Fleetwood may be the drummer of the band, but during his solo, he was clearly a leader who had the audience in the palm of his hands.
Mike Campbell was even given a moment in the spotlight when he sang lead on “Oh Well” from the 1969 record, “Then Play On.” His nasally voice sounded like a cross between Petty and Bob Dylan, but the guy just killed it on guitar; taking what was already a very heavy blues rock song and adding more crunch — with the band responding in kind. This tour is clearly a retrospective that leans a lot on the hits, but the deep cuts gave the setlist variety. Speaking of variety, Neil Finn got to dust off the biggest hit of his career (“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House) after Mick Fleetwood gave it a detailed and heartfelt introduction. Although Mick didn’t come out and say it outright, he obliquely spoke about the importance of the song’s lyrics and how relevant they are in today’s world.
“Landslide” proved to be the most popular song of the evening. Though it’s been a staple of Fleetwood Mac’s setlists since 1975, the song wasn’t a single until it was re-released as a live version in 1997. Smashing Pumpkins were the first to cover the song in 1994, but The Dixie Chicks really brought their harmonies to the song and made it a hit again in 2002. After that, it seemed everyone and their mother-in-law covered the song — either professionally, at karaoke night, or in a car listening to the radio. That was clear when most of the women in the audience belted out a sing-along with Nicks. The rest of the set kept the heavy hitters coming until the last song on the encore, “All Over Again.” An odd choice for a duet between Nicks and Christine McVie since that song appeared on the record “Time” — an album that Nicks did not appear on.
Overall, Fleetwood Mac sounded fantastic on Sunday night. All the players are seasoned pros, but they played with vitality and didn’t have any hiccups — like the show in San Jose where Nicks forgot the lyrics to “Landslide.”
Wow! Stevie Nicks kinda lost it here… Said it’s her nerves playing in San Jose #FleetwoodMac #Landslide pic.twitter.com/54YIBwSyEE
— Mariecar Mendoza (@SFMarMendoza) November 22, 2018
As a critic who listens to music professionally to assess the merits of the work (and not someone who slags something just to slag it), I will say that Fleetwood Mac delivered a production that was excellent. I’m not a big fan of their music, but I am a big fan of people who craft great songs, can play with passion and precision, and bring an audience to their feet with solid performances. That’s exactly what Fleetwood Mac did at Oracle Arena on Sunday night. I went in expecting a ho-hum greatest hits rehash, and came out thrilled by the experience of a wonderful show full of drama — that played out in the song’s lyrics and the music.