"There's never anything like the first show," Stevie Nicks announced Friday night as she kicked off her latest tour at Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette Pavilion. Appearing confident and ready to rock, Nicks' kick off date for her trek in support of Trouble in Shangri-La was a bit of a "family" affair -- her parents were in the audience, her brother oversaw merchandise sales, best friends Sharon Celani and Mindy Stein were on backing vocals and a troupe of old buddies -- including guitar great/band director Waddy Wachtel, guitarist Carlos Rios, and keyboardists Scott Plunkett and Brett Tuggle (who "lived through the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour") -- joined Nicks onstage.
And what a stage it was. Her set -- a moss-draped, wisteria-vined New Orleans courtyard, with twin statues of an Indian deity planted mid-stage and a giant arch through which projections of clouds, planets and other heavenly images appeared -- seemed appropriate for the lyrical content of such classics as "Dreams" and "Edge of Seventeen."
As she cranked out her opening number, the old Tom Petty duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," Nicks also delivered a pleasant surprise: a voice that sounds better than it has in about twenty-five-years, since various Fleetwood Mac-era abuses reduced its Buckingham-Nicks purity to a noise scarily close to the sound of a bleating goat.
But no amount of cleaner living, vocal exercising or band support could elevate her show to the levels it reached each time guest star Sheryl Crow took the stage. Crow, who produced nearly half of Nicks' Trouble, was involved in every one of the show's peak moments -- including some in which Nicks was nowhere near the stage.
When Crow stepped up to a stage-left mike as Nicks sang "Gold Dust Woman," the song immediately gathered strength. When Crow delivered her own "My Favorite Mistake," she pretty much stole the show. And on Crow's "Everyday Is a Winding Road," Nicks sounded much better as Crow's harmony vocalist than she did singing lead on not-quite-satisfying versions of her own "Stand Back," "Rhiannon" or the new "Planets of the Universe."
Nicks said their studio work and attempt to tour as "a viable singing duo" was a five-year-old dream deferred by many obstacles, apparently including gender-related ones. "Keep in mind this is a man's world," Nicks explained. That Nicks or Crow would have any problem with career control at this stage in their lives is hard to believe, but their determination to pull it off definitely was worth the struggle.
"Here on out for tonight, [Crow] is a member of this band. She does what she does," Nicks told the crowd of 13,000. What she did was salvage Trouble in Shangri-La track "Too Far From Texas," on which she delivered the part sung by Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines.
Nicks' classics like, "Dreams" and "Edge of Seventeen" received a fair rendition buoyed by the band's expertise and an inspired percussion intro by Lenny Castro. But even the band took a back seat to Crow's gorgeous pipes and dynamic stage presence. Though Nicks wowed the audience with her standard black, witchy-woman dress, a variety of shawls, her bouncy dancing and, thankfully, only a few song-ending twirls, she'd be well advised to retain Crow as "a member of the band" for the entire tour -- and keep her onstage as much as possible.