Two hours before Fleetwood Mac take the stage in Washington, D.C., for the fifth show on their massive U.S. tour, Stevie Nicks cuddles her Yorkshire terriers Sulamith and Sara while sipping Folgers coffee as Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" – which samples Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" – blares from a boombox. Down the hall, in a suite of rooms labeled "Men of Mac," Lindsey Buckingham noodles on his guitar and picks at some grilled chicken. Mick Fleetwood, dapperly appointed in a three-piece suit, chats with his twin seven-year-old daughters while mulling over a rack of outlandish clothing options. "Back in the day, I would be wheeled in here on a gurney most afternoons and massaged back to life," says the drummer, adding that the band used to play its songs faster thanks to all the "marching powder." "I'd somehow start it all over again and drink my way into oblivion halfway through the show."
For the first time, Fleetwood Mac are touring without a new album, instead celebrating the dozens of hits they've created over their decades-long career. "Last time we did an album and toured, there was a lot of tension," says Buckingham. "This time, there isn't." After years of acrimony and lineup shifts, Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood and bassist John McVie reunited in 2003 (without Christine McVie, who retired from the band in 1998) for an album and tour, laboring under the stress of renewing difficult relationships. "We don't have anything to fight about this time," says Nicks. "It gives us the opportunity to just go up there and perform these songs we love. It's really kind of joyful."
It helps that the group members have learned to keep their distance between shows. "This is still based in a situation where there were two couples that had broken up," Buckingham says. "But we do talk to each other – we're not the Eagles."
Minutes before showtime, the band gathers in the hallway backstage. Fleetwood, who has chosen a schoolboy-meets-Phantom of the Opera ensemble complete with knickers, tights and a black cloak, flattens his palms against the wall for a series of stretching exercises as McVie struts around nearby with his bass strapped on. Finally, Buckingham and Nicks stroll out of their dressing rooms and nod at each other in greeting.
Fleetwood Mac come alive when they hit the stage before a near-capacity crowd of 14,000. They open with muscular versions of "Monday Morning" and "The Chain," and, led by Buckingham, continually raise the energy level throughout the two-hour-plus show. Buckingham's mesmerizing, atypical playing – sometimes fingerpicking, often deftly flicking the strings with the backs of his fingers – is so intense on "Oh Well" and "I'm So Afraid" that Guitar Hero: Fleetwood Mac suddenly seems like a good idea.
Nicks pulls out a different accessory (tambourine, ribbons, scarves, a top hat) for each song and pumps up the passion on "Gold Dust Woman" and "Storms." Fleetwood often pounds out his polyrhythms with his eyes closed, occasionally shrieking, "Are you ready for some hanky-panky?" Lost amid his colorful bandmates,
McVie is such a quiet presence that Fleetwood actually forgets to introduce him along with the rest of the band ("I've only known him for 50 years, for Christ's sake," McVie later gripes backstage).
The 23-song set includes eight tracks from the Mac's 30-million-selling Rumours and otherwise draws heavily from 1975's Fleetwood Mac and 1979's Tusk. Some of the biggest ovations come when Buckingham and Nicks play on their rocky history. During "Sara," when Nicks saunters over, sings in Buckingham's mike and dramatically drapes a hand on his shoulder, the crowd erupts. Later, riding to the airport with her assistant and her dogs, Nicks says, "The crowd loves the love story of Stevie and Lindsey. We get to have that onstage – we don't have to go home together to have the love story."
This story is from the April 2nd, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.