It’s a marvel that Fleetwood Mac was even on stage to perform last night.
It is a band that has gone through a great deal of emotional turmoil, and more recently, physical stress, as bassist John McVie was diagnosed with cancer roughly one year ago. Two other members have died within the last three years, one to suicide and the other to a hemorrhage.
They have four members who have gone through two failed relationships (one divorce) within the band and have had several key members come and go. They even bared their emotional and romantic troubles out on their 1977 multi-platinum album “Rumours.” And when the band finally gained some stability during its 1990s reunion, singer and keyboard player Christine McVie left because of a fear of flying on tour.
And so it was immensely gratifying to see her make a triumphant return to the group at Nationwide Arena on Sunday night — both for the audience, and clearly for the band. The band was firing on all cylinders with the original three-part harmonies that McVie brought back to their sound, Stevie Nicks sounding as gorgeous as ever and lead guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham transcending with his stunning guitar solos.
The group opened up with “The Chain,” one of its most poignant and visceral songs off of “Rumours,” so it got into the soul-bearing business right away. And Buckingham immediately reminded me of why I consider him to be one of my favorite guitar players — a guitarist who, as George Harrison might put it, can make his guitar weep. His unusual finger picking, remarkable songwriting abilities and brilliant lyrical guitar lines proved to be a constant highlight throughout the night.
It was obvious that they would begin with “The Chain,” a song about betrayal that reflects on the end of John McVie and Christine McVie’s marriage and the impending end (at the time it was written) of Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship. It perfectly reflects the raw emotions that are conveyed in the lyrics.
The band continued on with a series of some of their hits, ranging from Christine McVie-penned “You Make Loving Fun,” to “Rhiannon,” to “Tusk.”
“Tusk”’s unusual structure and chorus, featuring an on-screen projection of the University of Southern California marching band, proved to be especially fun. I should also note that the projection was just one of several impressive visuals featured at the show.
The three acoustic ballads, “Big Love,” “Landslide” and “Never Going Back Again” were simply spectacular. Buckingham’s howling and flamenco-style guitar playing on “Big Love” wowed the crowd, while Nicks got the tears flowing with her stunning vocals on “Landslide.”
Christine McVie showed the crowd why her reunion with the group after a 17-year leave of absence was so important to the band. Her joyful singing on songs like “Over My Head (The Dance)” and “Say You Love Me” as well as her keyboard chops, displayed on “Don’t Stop” and “Gold Dust Woman,” brought a new dimension to the sound that wasn’t there when I saw them in Chicago last year without her.
The entire band jammed out on highlights “Gold Dust Woman” and “I’m So Afraid” — another song where Buckingham literally brought the crowd (which was complacent during some of the show) to its feet with his lengthy, show-stopping guitar solo.
One of the lyrics in the band’s mega-hits (which Bill Clinton interestingly used during his first presidential campaign) “Don’t Stop,” tells its intended audience “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow / Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here / It’ll be better than before/ Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”
And closer “Songbird” was pristine.
They managed to make us both look back and forward. Whether it was in appreciating the mere feat of their being on stage, or in watching burly 67-year-old drummer Mick Fleetwood, who was dressed almost as a pirate, play with the manic enthusiasm of a 13-year-old, or in seeing Christine McVie’s return, watching the group perform was an inspirational joy. Indeed, how could one stop thinking about tomorrow in the midst of watching this 47-year-old band that has been to hell and then rocked back out again? If they can persevere through inter-band divorce, rampant drug abuse and cancer, then what’s our excuse?