Fleetwood Mac “unleashed” the Sheffield component of their UK tour against a background track of what sounded like crickets chirping happily in the night. With no new album to promote (yet, according to LB) their chosen set of personal favourites admirably reflected the band’s evolution which, as LB remarked, has had a “convoluted and emotional history”. Stevie Nicks making her entrances holding hands with Lindsey Buckingham and her final exit in a similar fashion with Mick Fleetwood, the menage a trois drum and vocal stage placements for Storms and Say You Love Me and the Buckingham/Nicks embrace at the end of Sara were all designed to be symbolic of an earlier era in their personal history.
The audience was very slow to warm up - maybe it was just age or that infamous British ‘reserve’ kicking in and masking any obvious outward sign of their enjoyment. The first eight rows of my left hand floor block (including me) were on their feet from the start but, apart from the first row, the centre and right hand floor sections remained seated for virtually the entire show. I felt really sorry for the band who were playing their hearts out and (it seemed to me) getting back only polite applause from a rather wooden crowd. Only towards the very end was it apparent that virtually everyone in the arena had finally gotten to their feet.
As well as experiencing their music live for the very first time I was also curious to try and understand their physical appeal. From a male viewpoint, “Floaty Nix”, on stage at least, seems to epitomise the lyrics of Rhiannon, the hunter’s elusive prey, the pot of gold at the end of the ever-moving rainbow. Her voice is a little deeper now but still powerful. Her trademark curtsies, poses, twirls (at least 4 dervish spins during Stand Back!), shawls, sleeves, tambourine, ribbons, long blond hair, dark eyes and top hat were all displayed at some stage or other and her appeal is clearly obvious.
Despite the audience’s palpable anticipation of something special, Rhiannon was, I thought, (and maybe deliberately ) relatively understated and on the cautious side. Landslide was lovely but her performance of Gold Dust Woman was particularly noteworthy. It culminated with her swaying in front of the drum kit, facing Mick Fleetwood. A perspex barrier wall and clever lighting combined to project her almost ethereal gold-shawled image back towards the audience.
Lindsey Buckingham plays the part of the tortured soul and his interaction with Stevie Nicks looked genuine to me. His party pieces of Go Insane, Never Going Back Again, Big Love and I’m So Afraid were stunning examples of his vocal and guitar-picking prowess. His rendition of Oh Well would have made Peter Green either very proud or very jealous. Inviting the audience members to pluck his instrument during Go Your Own Way was also enthusiastically received by those close enough to reach it. He is extremely energetic on stage, pointing and gesticulating to female members of the audience. He provides an obvious male pin-up for someone even half his age! I found the footstomping and the mid air leaps a bit melodramatic but he plays a mean guitar and has a fine voice, so I forgive him!
They included two of her songs, Don’t Stop and Say You Love Me but I missed the presence of Christine McVie. The backing singers provided a nice foil to Stevie Nicks’ lead but she could use some female companionship up front, if only to counter the excess of testosterone on view!
The only negative comment I have to make concerns Mick Fleetwood. Yes - he is the band’s father figure, Yes – standing 6’ 7” with his swinging balls he does cut an imposing figure on stage, Yes - he is an excellent drummer but No - he doesn’t have to demand his share of the audience’s approbation with his “Are you still with Me” and “Don’t Be Shy - Give It Up” comments. He really doesn’t need to do this. Compared with the Nicks and Buckingham farewell comments, I also found his parting speech a trifle tedious.
It was a memorable and magical first time concert for me, not only for the quality of the music but also for the quality of their stage craft. The six video screens (four above and two behind the band) provided subtle complementary effects. I particularly liked the multiple lizard (or were they birds?) eyes that accompanied World Turning. Remarkably, there also appeared to be no restrictions on fans using cameras or flash photography. Even though I know the whole performance is carefully scripted and choreographed, I still find it incredible that the central players are able to recreate their obvious emotional bonds onstage night after night then walk away and rejoin their real lives unscathed from the experience. They are damned fine actors as well as great musicians! Overall, Fleetwood Mac Unleashed is a class act and I can't wait to see the next chapter in their story!