With Christine McVie back in the fold after a 16-year hiatus, Fleetwood Mac begins a welcome new chapter by looking back to its heyday.
If Mick Fleetwood’s shout-out to his own band in San Diego Tuesday night simply (and loudly) stated the obvious, well, he’s surely earned the right to crow a bit.
“The Mac is definitely back!” the towering, 6-foot-5-inch drummer proudly declared. The sold-out audience of nearly 10,000 fans at SDSU’s Viejas Arena cheered loudly in return, just as it had through nearly all of the 2½-hour-plus show.
For the record, apart from a hiatus of a few years in the 1990s, this legendary rock act has never been away. Fleetwood is the only member to have performed in each of the band’s many lineups since its inception in 1967, including the one that performed here last year at Viejas Arena.
But Tuesday’s concert was especially memorable because it found this veteran ensemble taking a major step forward by taking a major step back. After a 16-year hiatus — a period of time far longer than the entire careers of many rock bands — singer, keyboardist and songwriter Christine McVie this year rejoined Fleetwood Mac for her first tour with the group since 1999.
Her welcome return is both exhilarating and liberating. This holds true both for the band and its multigenerational fans, many of whom remained standing and often sang along for much of Tuesday’s show.
Or, as Fleetwood put it after “World Turning,” the first of four encore selections: “Having this wonderful lady share the stage, making us complete, our songbird has returned.”
At 71, McVie is the oldest member of Fleetwood Mac, which was a three-year-old English blues-rock band when she came on board in 1970. Her return has bolstered the group in several key ways.
Down to earth and free of even a hint of affectation, she provides a welcome counterbalance to singer Stevie Nicks and singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. The two American musicians joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975 and helped propel it to international pop-rock superstardom with the classic 1977 album, “Rumours.”
McVie sang lead on nearly a third of the 24 songs performed Tuesday, nearly all of which had been deferentially shelved by the band when she retired in 1999. It was a treat to hear her rustic, fuss-free lead vocals on “You Make Loving Fun,” “Little Lies,” “Say You Love Me” and the concert-concluding “Songbird.”
It was equally enjoyable hearing her harmonize again with Nicks and Buckingham, who clearly relished having their longtime collaborator back in the fold. So did drummer Fleetwood, 67, and bassist John McVie, 69, Christine’s former husband, who sounded and appeared none the worse after starting treatment last fall for cancer. (The band was tastefully augmented by three female backing singers and two male auxiliary musicians, who also supplied periodic vocal support.)
Christine McVie’s return also means Nicks and Buckingham no longer each have to handle 50 percent of the lead vocals. As a result, both were able to tackle such classics as “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Second Hand News” and “Tusk” with renewed energy and enthusiasm. They also beamed broadly as they harmonized with McVie on “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way” and other decades-old gems that still sound fresh and vital.
Buckingham delivered a number of inspired guitar solos that showcased his finger-picking prowess. His rippling lines on “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” “Big Love” and the Wishbone Ash-inspired “I’m So Afraid” were highlights. Ditto Nicks’ deeply moving singing on “Landslide,” and “Gold Dust Woman,” which turned into a rare (at least for the current iteration of Fleetwood Mac) extended jam.
Fleetwood and John McVie provided a rock-solid foundation throughout. Their tirelessly robust playing in no way indicated the two, both of whom are longtime U.S. residents, qualified for Social Security several years ago.
Alas, the pacing of the concert sagged in places, including a rousing, but overly extended, Buckingham solo segment that seemed designed to give his band mates an extended offstage break. Fleetwood’s 5-minute drum solo on “World Turning,” while an undeniable crowd-pleaser, overstayed its welcome. Conversely, Nicks’ introduction to “Gypsy” was as long as some of the songs performed, but she reminisced about her years as a young aspiring musician with more than enough infectious verve to compensate.
And when everything clicked, which was often, time almost stood still — even as Buckingham, 65, boyishly bounded across the stage and Nicks, 66, did her witchy woman twirls. Don’t stop, indeed.
George Varga / UT San Diego / Wednesday, December 3, 2014