[The Nicks Fix]

Houston Chronicle
Oct 7, 2003

The following is a review of the October 6 Fleetwood Mac concert in Houston at the Toyota Center.

A landslide debut as Toyota Center hosts first concert

Fleetwood Mac dazzles at new venue


A half hour before Fleetwood Mac took the stage at the new downtown Toyota Center on Monday, the show had already begun inside the downtown arena's inner bowl.

The ribbon of LED lighting circling the upper suite level glowed with red Toyota logos like a cross between a lava lamp and a stock ticker. Red cushioned seats scale what will be the Houston Rockets courtside, like some regal parliament about to come to order.

Fleetwood Mac was the name on the marquee, but sharing the bill was the $235 million Toyota Center itself. Brighter and more airy than the 28-year-old Compaq Center, the building was, for its historic opening night, a sparkling cathedral of rock.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first concert at the Toyota Center Houston," greeted Stevie Nicks.

It was a night of firsts.

The debut offered a chance to survey the restroom facilities (quite abundant), sample the popcorn (properly salty) and check out the aisle space (much like coach seating on Southwest). And Fleetwood Mac was the Houston music fan's first opportunity to hear how music will bounce off the arena's concrete columns and sound-banner-covered ceiling.

The first tones heard coming from the stage were clapping cymbals stamped by Mick Fleetwood, followed by the baritone bellow of John McVie's bass to introduce The Chain. It was quickly followed by the first soundboard troubleshoot, as Nicks' tar-pocked rasp drowned out the masculine Lindsey Buckingham on their choral duet. The problem was quickly fixed.

The uniqueness of Fleetwood Mac -- a Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame band that sold over 70 million albums in the 28 years since Buckingham and Nicks joined McVie and Fleetwood -- is that it was actually three bands.

With Nicks at the microphone, they were a mystical, earth band wrapped in thin illusion, much like the shawls and draping sleeves of her wardrobe. When led by Buckingham, they were a straight-ahead guitar rock band in the tradition of Tom Petty and the Eagles. Finally, under the spell of Christine McVie, they were a stripped-down pop ensemble with a sound that leans toward the band's original London roots.

Christine McVie opted not to participate in the recording of Say You Will, the group's first studio album in eight years, or this tour. That leaves Fleetwood Mac without the lighter fare of past hits You Make Loving Fun or Say You Love Me at their disposal. It also opened the door for some lesser-known favorites that would normally be left off.

Fleetwood's snare loop spiked Buckingham's and Nick's delivery of Second Hand News, and set up a night of chemistry between the two that many probably thought was lost when they stopped dating decades ago. Their complicated relationship was properly feted on a tender rendering of Landslide. Buckingham's kiss to her forehead let all those still following the drama know that there still is affection between them.

Nicks' throaty delivery on Gypsy and Silver Springs was as corrugated and note-perfect as in Fleetwood Mac's heyday. She doesn't touch the high notes on Dreams and Rhiannon anymore, preferring to gear them down an octave.

The first song rejected by the audience was the dense electric cacophony of Come. One of the many songs written and sung by Buckingham on Say You Will, its unfamiliarity had many fans skittering for the concourse exits. Bright rafter illumination on all stairways will make it hard for the disinterested to ditch an artist gracefully in this building.

Those who left also missed one of the first truly memorable moments in the Toyota Center. Come descended into an extended Buckingham solo on guitar that showcased one of the truly under-appreciated rock musicians. The song also warmed him up for the percussive ham of Big Love and the layered improvisation of I'm So Afraid, the best test of the building during the night.

The verdict on the center: very listener-friendly, with final judgment reserved until a few more shows can be surveyed.

Unfortunately, history will have to remember that the Toyota Center's debut night was not a sellout, but those who were there own a piece of the revitalization of Houston's downtown that no souvenir stand can sell.

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