Fleetwood Mac Not Hurt By Stevie Nicks - Rolling Stone
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Fleetwood Mac Not Hurt By Stevie Nicks

Nicks, Buckingham and company triumph over adversity

Stevie Nicks performing with Fleetwood Mac.

Stevie Nicks performing with Fleetwood Mac.

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Fleetwood Mac
Madison Square Garden

New York City
June 29, 1977

Two things about Fleetwood Mac‘s Garden show: Stevie Nicks’ failing voice was the audience’s prime discussion topic before and after the concert; and Fleetwood Mac performed magnificently without Nicks’ best efforts.

Nicks clearly has become the group’s centerpiece, a shaggy-haired love object who cultivates an onstage mystique that only the very young could thoroughly buy. Her mannerisms – whirling dances (outstretched arms converting her shawl into butterfly wings), sotto voce introductions (for “Rhiannon”: “This is a song about a witch”) and sulky aimlessness between her numbers – skirt corniness. Still, Nicks has an undeniable magnetism and gets away with her devices more often than not.

On this night, though, she couldn’t summon the chops to get away with anything. Fleetwood Mac had canceled their previous evening’s performance in Syracuse because Nicks was suffering from severe vocal strain. At the Garden she found it impossible to hit “Rhiannon”‘s higher notes – though she struggled valiantly. And during “Gold Dust Woman,” Nicks, wearing a witch’s black hat and framed by a Halloween moon that reappeared from time to time during the night, growled hoarse incantations to rival Linda Blair’s Regan’s – without Regan’s exquisite control.

Even more, Nicks was nearly always physically unstable. She lurched about the stage, twirled slowly with all the grace of a drunken sailor and, near the concert’s end, wobbled along the stage’s port and starboard precipices while frantic roadies followed to prevent a fall.

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What her deficiencies (temporary, I assume, since some who saw the next night’s show at the Garden said Nicks had righted herself) allowed was the emergence of Lindsey Buckingham. Fleetwood Mac’s slightly forgotten man (sandwiched as he is between airy Nicks and earth mother Christine McVie), Buckingham sang with startling force and range. Perhaps the fact that he hit his high notes so ringingly after Nicks’ consistent fluffs made his singing more dramatic – he seemed genuinely grateful when the audience acknowledged his songs, almost always with its greatest applause.

Buckingham writes and sings Fleetwood Mac’s most uptempo numbers (“Monday Morning,” “Second Hand News”), so he’s a natural in performance. But his guitar work, on slower acoustic numbers like “Never Going Back Again” as well as on hard rockers like “The Chain,” was always surprisingly and effectively eclectic. Buckingham uses finger-picking and hard chording to create an orchestral guitar sound and is primarily responsible for Fleetwood Mac’s alluringly bright instrumental texture. On record, Buckingham’s soloing has always sounded overly familiar, built as it is from the general guitar wisdom of the Sixties; yet taken as a whole, it’s beginning to sound distinctive. Buckingham’s penchant for understated fills and his control of timbre remind me most of Beatles-era George Harrison.

Which is very much to the point. Fleetwood Mac, much like the Beatles, is a group of diverse personalities that mesh surprisingly well. Christine McVie is one of rock’s most easily identifiable female vocalists, and most likable (her “Say that You Love Me” and “Over My Head,” both hit singles, opened to great rushes of applause). But it’s as much a thrill to see Nicks and Buckingham harmonizing behind McVie as it is to hear her stately versions of those songs. Though Buckingham’s voice is not quite as distinctive as the others’, his, Nicks’ and McVie’s singing are effectively disparate – as different in intensity, approach and sheer sound as could be. And, though the Beatles’ voices were far more alike, there’s a similar yoking here of strong egos to one purpose (much like all-stars who actually play as a team). And, since this edition of Fleetwood Mac hasn’t written a bad song in two albums, they always manage to score, no matter what.

Bass guitarist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood should not go unmentioned. Their combination of flowing percussion and spare, accented bass is one of the most delightful in all of rock. And Fleetwood Mac, as should be obvious, began and surely will end with Fleetwood and McVie.

This story is from the August 25th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.


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