Roughly 40 minutes into a revealing, intimate show at Austin blues club Antone's on Wednesday, Lindsey Buckingham essentially dared his audience not to sing with him. Teasing the opening of the undeniable Fleetwood Mac hit "Never Going Back Again" on his eighth different guitar of the night, Buckingham sang the song's opening line in a voice so faint atop finger picking so precise that any crowd accompaniment would've crushed the moment.
The fans recognized this, and they stayed hushed as the song built to a winding, Graham Nash-ian guitar solo, reaching its high point with Buckingham belting out reworked lines – "been down three times!" – before settling into the familiar sing-along chorus.
Moments like that are the real selling point of Buckingham's current solo tour, which finds him completely alone onstage in clubs and very small theaters with nothing but an occasional backing track as he works through material spanning his solo career, hits with Fleetwood Mac and even moments from his Buckingham Nicks days.
His live career, he said, contrasts the "big machine" – the height of Fleetwood Mac's fame, with marching bands and more onstage – with the "small machine." Buckingham said he uses scaled-back moments like Wednesday to take chances and reveal more nuanced aspects of his career as a writer and performer.
That was evident in songs like "Bleed to Love Her," where his vocals – still strong at age 62 – went from raw and confessional on the verses to tender and yearning on the choruses, and in a stark, almost murder-ballad take on "Go Insane."
One of the biggest draws of getting Buckingham in a solo live setting is the opportunity for him to showcase his guitar work free of any other musical presence. Acknowledged as an all-time great – he's number 100 on Rolling Stone's most recent list of rock's best guitar players – Buckingham earned his place as more of a compositional player in the mode of George Harrison rather than being a titan of blues-based jamming.
And while there were a few Eric Clapton-worthy solos on Wednesday, on "I'm So Afraid" especially, most of his instrumental high points featured him expanding chordal patterns that served more as prolonged, almost lyrical segues between passages of his songs, often sounding like there were at least two guitars playing.
A big part of the allure throughout the 75-minute set came from dissecting the sounds produced as Buckingham alternated his playing styles between the fingerpicking he learned as a young fan of the Kingston Trio, traditional strumming and the flamenco-derived rasgueado technique, where fingers explode downward across the strings.
It wasn't all about showing off, though, as a run through the comparatively straightforward instrumental "Stephanie" saw Buckingham smiling at that flashback to the earliest days of his musical career with longtime partner Stevie Nicks.
Speaking openly and frankly to the crowd near the end of the set, Buckingham edged around how complicated and fractious his partnership with Nicks and the other members of Fleetwood Mac eventually became. He introduced "Big Love" as a document of that period by explaining how for many years he avoided affection and emotion at pretty much all cost.
Launching into the intense, soaring rocker, Buckingham stomped the stage as he settled into an intricate, driving solo that drew the cheering crowd in almost as a backing band accompaniment. At the song's sudden stop Buckingham jumped back from the microphone to catch his breath, taking several moments to compose himself on a song that still touches a nerve more than 25 years after it was written.
In dozens of moments like those, Buckingham showed that his "small machine" moments can be some of the most thrilling and satisfying of his career.
"Cast Away Dreams"
"Bleed to Love Her"
"Not Too Late"
"Shut Us Down"
"Never Going Back Again"
"I'm So Afraid"
"Go Your Own Way"
"Seeds We Sow"