It was supposed to be a grand send-off for two women marking the end of their days with Fleetwood Mac, but the life of the party turned out to be the guy who’d left the band a few years back. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie celebrated their departure from the touring version of Fleetwood Mac with one final show at the Great Western Forum – while Lindsey Buckingham, who’d never had the chance to do this kind of ceremonial swan song because he quit the group rancorously just before a tour, showed up to lend support and wound up stealing the show.
In a way, it figures. The classic Fleetwood Mac lineup, the one that hit its commercial and artistic peak with the albums Rumours and Tusk, was made up of Nicks, McVie and Buckingham, in addition to drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. It was a precarious blend of mercurial, difficult personalities balanced on a knife edge; the new Mac, with singer-guitarists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito replacing Buckingham, is less explosive, more pedestrian and harder to get nostalgic about.
As a result, what could have been a teary, emotional evening full of fond farewells and charged performances of songs that’ll soon be retired turned out to be a pretty routing performance. Beginning with the foreboding “In the Back of My Mind” – the most adventurous tune on the recent album Behind the Mask – the band ran through a variation of the set it’s been doing for about a decade and a half now. “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Rhiannon” and “Oh Well” come early on; then there’s a break while Nicks does an acoustic version of “Landslide”; Fleetwood takes a long drum solo on “World Turning”; rockers like “Say You Love Me” end the set; and then Christine McVie does the final encore singing “Songbird” alone at the piano.
It should have been possible to give this business-as-usual set some extra fervor, but that rarely happened. Nicks in particular seemed to be going through the motions; not only did she invest onetime show-stoppers like “Rhiannon” with little of the passion she used to display, but she didn’t even twirl around waving her scarves very often. In fact, the only time she seemed fully committed to a song was when she did “Stand Back” – not a Fleetwood Mac song, but a single from one of her solo albums.
Christine McVie, meanwhile, contributed a few of the evening’s more bracing songs, from “Say You Love Me” to the set-closing duo of “You Make Loving Fun” and “Don’t Stop.” But McVie functions best as the calm in the eye of the storm – and between Nicks’s listless performance and the relatively colorless tunes provided by Burnette and Vito, she simply didn’t have enough storm to work with.
In the end it was left to Buckingham to ignite the evening’s only real sparks. He walked onstage midway through the show to accompany Nicks on “Landslide” and immediately added a bit of tension. “I know that maybe someday he will find it in his heart to spend some time with me again, and maybe do some music,” Nicks said of her former band mate and lover, suggesting that a few emotional loose ends are still dangling around the duo.
Buckingham returned with the entire band for the encore, playing along on a version of the rockabilly chestnut “Tear It Up” and then leading the band through his magnificent “Go Your Own Way.” For a moment he reverted to his old self, staggering across the stage spastically as he ripped our a blistering guitar solo – while Nicks, either in a bit of one-upmanship or oblivious to what was going on behind her, marched around the stage with a preschool-aged Stevie wanna-be she’d dragged out of the audience.
That’s the kind of drama, and the kind of music, that once enlivened and invigorated Fleetwood Mac. It probably isn’t what’s in store for the band, though: Whenever Burnette or Vito led the group, Fleetwood Mac became, at worst, a professional and faceless rock band, and, at best, a group of convincing blues rockers. Judging by the Forum show, Fleetwood Mac’s road from here will be less rocky – and less interesting.
This story is from the February 7th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.