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Fleetwood Mac Clicks Without Nicks

The band still shines, while Steve Miller Band turns in a superb show

Lindsey Buckingham and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac performing onstage circa 1978.
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty
October 5, 1978

Fleetwood Mac
Steve Miller Band
JFK Stadium
Philadelphia
July 30, 1978

They might as well have called it a pop-blues festival. Fleetwood Mac and the Steve Miller Band, the two headliners, started out as blues bands and gradually extended their interpretations of the medium to embrace a larger, pop audience. Yet even after all the hits, it's obvious in live performance that both bands still base their deliveries on the blues.

The audience packing JFK Stadium to the limits was older than most concert crowds. They sat and waited peaceably through the Sanford-Townsend Band's watery set and through Bob Welch, who might have sounded good if he hadn't been victimized by feedback from the stadium's sound system.

Miller, ever the capable technician, didn't do much to incite the crowd's enthusiasm while delivering a near-perfect show, marred only by occasional vocal lapses when either he stopped singing or the PA system failed.

The biggest response Miller pulled was at the mention of Philadelphia in ''Rock'n Me,'' but his clever manipulation of blues-based hooks and excellent guitar playing maintained interest even in the least-inspired moments. He flashed some brilliant playing at the end of the set, carving out a ringing, trumpet-like solo on ''The Joker'' and finishing with a blues instrumental. The encore, his early trademark ''Livin' in the U.S.A.,'' drew a nostalgic response but clearly didn't match previous live performances of the song.

Photos: Fleetwood Mac 'Unleashed' And On Stage

Fleetwood Mac tapped the audience's energy more efficiently, channeling the opening applause into a rhythmic element of the first song. The group's great rhythm section was working overtime, with Mick Fleetwood slamming away the infectious drum backbeat while John McVie pinned down the arrangements with his loping, precision-punch bass playing. Lindsey Buckingham was in good form vocally and instrumentally, playing a letter-perfect guitar part on the classic ''Oh Well'' and a brilliant slow-blues intro to ''The Chain,'' which provided a high point early in the set. The latter song, which seems the weak link on Rumours, becomes a tour de force onstage, where it is stretched out into a long, intense instrumental.

Despite the commercial success Stevie Nicks has helped bring Fleetwood Mac, the band is better off in concert when she shuts her mouth and whirls around the stage. Nicks sounded consistently weak vocally and apparently uninterested in the old material. Whole sections of the show, especially the one starting with ''Dreams,'' were ruined by her lackluster vocals. She had to be saved repeatedly by Christine McVie's backup harmonies, which were embarrassingly more tuneful and responsive to the arrangements than Nicks'.

Nicks sang so poorly she even threw off the rhythm section, forcing Fleetwood to check and change tempos repeatedly during several tunes. By contrast, when Christine McVie took over lead vocals on ''Monday Morning'' and ''You Make Loving Fun,'' the band sounded magnificent and everything fell into place. Nicks sang like she meant it only on the one new song the group played, ''Sisters of the Moon,'' leading one to suspect her poor performance was due more to boredom than ineptness.

Despite Nicks, the Mac pulled off a red-hot finale, churning through bright versions of ''Go Your Own Way'' and ''Second Hand News'' that gave the fans what they came for.

This is a story from the October 5th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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