In the setlist created for Fleetwood Mac’s latest tour — the first in 16 years with singer and keyboardist Christine McVie — Fleetwood Mac leaves plenty of room for inter-song stories.
And for good reason: This band’s personal dramas are nearly as legendary as its music, and the various elephants in the room can’t be ignored. They ought to get their own drum solos during “Tusk.”
With that in mind, it hardly felt like a misstep on Monday night (Oct. 6) when Stevie Nicks jumped ahead during the first of two Mac concerts at Madison Square Garden and prepared to tell New York City fans the tale behind “Gypsy.”
The problem? It was time for song No. 15 on the setlist — where McVie explains and sings “In Over My Head” — not 16, and that left Stevie to offer a sheepish apology.
“I don’t know the story for this one,” Nicks said with a smile. “I’d love to.”
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The lives of the five individuals onstage are so intertwined, of course, that a little overlap is inevitable.
Nearly 40 years after the release of its 1977 landmark Rumours, this British-American band of ex-lovers and drug buddies has put professionalism before lingering resentments. And during Monday’s rock-solid performance, Nicks’ minor gaff was the only chink in the armor. The Mac attack rolls on, leveling cities with the power of its hits and letting the backstory frame the presentation without distracting from the songs.
Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham wouldn’t have it any other way. Monday night at MSG, the skinny-jeaned singer, guitarist, musical director, and onetime Nicks paramour bounded across the stage with more energy than his four bandmates combined.
With McVie back in the fold, Buckingham predicted a “profound and poetic new chapter for this band,” and to prove his point, he followed that statement with “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” a punk-inspired cut from the Mac’s divisive 1979 double LP Tusk.
“I Know I’m Not Wrong” didn’t get the same reaction as “The Chain, “You Make Loving Fun,” or “Dreams — the trio of smashes that opened the 24-song, two-plus-hour show — but it pointed a way forward for the group. Buckingham and McVie have reportedly been spearheading efforts for a new Mac record, and if Buckingham brings any of the barking intensity he showed on “I’m Not Afraid” or the fiery doom-grass finger workout “Big Love” (a showcase for his innovative picking technique), the Mac might return with a worthy addition to its canon.
If not, they can continue coasting on the old stuff, though it helps to have McVie making her triumphant return.
The Mac was getting dangerously low on storyline. In addition to presiding over her excellent ’70s gems and oft-overlooked ’80s hits “Everywhere” and “Little Lies” — both of which kept the band relevant as the classic lineup began to dissolve — McVie gave Monday’s show a reason for happening.
“Our songbird has returned,” drummer Mick Fleetwood said during his stage introductions — and indeed, McVie’s honeyed vocals are as strong as ever. She’s the Mac’s not-so-secret pop weapon, and on “You Make Loving Fun,” she glided easily through the high notes of the chorus. “And the songbirds keep singing,” she sang during the night’s grand finale, “Songbird,” “Like they know the score.”
Nicks, by contrast, gave deeper, more growling readings of “Dreams” and “Rhiannon” than casual fans might have been ready for. While the latter became a challenge to sing along to, Stevie’s new approach suits her dark, mystical lyrics. These days, Stevie digs into the material more than she belts it out, though she might have been saving herself for late-set thriller “Gold Dust Woman,” that wonderful anti-fairytale about cocaine and breakups and everything else that went into the Rumours cauldron.
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The first encore belonged to Fleetwood — all decked out in his dandy pirate-wear — who yipped and shouted as he banged out the drum solo in “World Turning,” offering clues into what goes through a drummer’s mind when he’s given free reign. Next was “Don’t Stop,” which sadly didn’t bring a surprise appearance from Hillary Clinton, who danced awkwardly to the tune two decades ago at her husband’s first inauguration.
It probably wasn’t the right time for Hillary to announce her candidacy for president anyway. Monday’s gig — and this entire tour — is about nostalgia for the ’70s and ’80s, not the ’90s. Perhaps Clinton will find a campaign song on that new record the Mac is promising. There’s supposed to one called “Carnival Begin,” a fitting title for all parties involved.