Fleetwood Mac live @ Phones4U arena, Manchester 1st October 2013

With Fleetwood Mac back on the agenda, we've revisited our Editor Jimmy Coultas’ thoughts of the return of rock and roll’s tempestuous behemoth to the live arena in 2013.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 10th Nov 2014

Image: Fleetwood Mac

We've revisited this review of the band due to the news Mick Fleetwood has stated the group will NOT be playing Glastonbury 2015, but they will be hitting the UK in 2015.

Music is becoming increasingly shorn of its legends. You can blame the internet, Simon Cowell, genetically modified food or any one of another myriad of reasons, but in the wider consensus there are few artists and bands that straddle the stratosphere of greatness quite like they used to. One group though that do, back catalogue basing at least, is Fleetwood Mac.

Rock music’s most alluring soap opera, Fleetwood Mac’s near five decade spanning career has included what is essentially two different bands with the same backbone, a cavalcade of affairs and in-loving (and fighting), and some of the most apocalyptic drug meltdowns popular culture has ever witnessed.

In the midst of all that, and partially because of it, they created some of the most beautifully evocative material in Popular Music history, an almost never ending list of albums and songs etched onto the hearts of millions across the globe.

Many have mused what the sixties and seventies would have been like amid the social networking era of late (Lynyrd Skynyrd sniping with Neil Young over 140 characters would certainly have been interesting), but this was a group that fleshed out the breakdowns and arguments very much in public. 

Their 1977 colossus Rumours (stream above on Spotify) bristles beautifully to expose the lies, infidelity and paranoia that eclipsed the in-fighting and tempestuous relationships of the group at that point, a triumph borne of the ashes from the combustion of what happens when ego, sexual desire and a truckload of narcotics collide.

2013 has marked the return of the Mac to the live arena, and it hasn’t come cheap. Tickets were exchanging hands for amounts well into three figures beforehand, and with an audience at the Phones4U arena spanning young adults right up to pensioners, the appeal certainly hasn’t dimmed across the ages. The question is whether they still can cut the mustard.

At first it seems that the cost and sheer scale of the process might be overblown. Their entrance isn’t quite injected with the level of fanfare their reputation deserves, the group quickly blustering through ‘Second Hand News’. The sharp twangs punctuate brilliantly but with no real great vocal presence from the group’s frontman Lindsey Buckingham, and straight away there’s this slight sense that they may be weighed down by age and expectation.

The second performance subverts that theory, but even though we knew it from the widely published setlist beforehand, there’s still tangible disappointment in hearing ‘The Chain’ so early. The tremendous intro, all folksy foreboding and Americana drenched menace, hurtles into the foreground before slowly picking up the pace and finally disintegrating into that infamous bassline. It’s thrillingly absorbing, but surely this would have worked better drawn out as an epic encore?

The next problem is the group’s enchantress Stevie Nicks’ voice. Whilst it would be unrealistic to expect it to retain the ethereal qualities of old, ‘Dreams’ follows on and she drifts almost incoherently in and out of focus, reducing one of the most enchanting records within their arsenal to the blasé.

She’s similarly off kilter on ‘Rhiannon’, and with that dreaded bugbear of the iconic group’s live performance, new material, sandwiched in-between, there’s this sense that this is going to be an anodyne experience.

Those fears though are slowly assuaged. Buckingham imparts his relief that 1979’s critically mauled Tusk has since been viewed with a different light, and when they play the album’s title track it marks a sea change in the intensity of the concert. Suddenly on this carnal, animalistic hoedown of a record the raw power the group is evidently in focus, a brutal almost ugly blood rush of a song that causes the band to explode into focus.

Nicks too is now sharply jolted into the right groove, particularly when the romanticism of her relationship with Buckingham is bared so obviously for the first time. ‘Sara’ sees the duo singing together, and whilst it’s never known how much of the lingering looks and touching embraces are staged, that doesn’t stop them being lavishly lapped up by the audience. Either way, the shaky vibes of her earlier mishaps are blown away in a hugely transfixing performance, the catalyst for a blisteringly brilliant couple of hours.

Never to be outdone, Buckingham follows with arguably the standout moment of the entire show. Emerging alone, he talks about how the next record, taken from 1987’s blissfully short power punch opus Tango in the Night, was wrote at a point where he was scared to embrace something, the lyric of the track redolent of a man fearsome of being hurt after so many tarnished encounters with emotion.

That lyric is “Looking out for love”, and as the familiar refrain whittles in and out of a virtuoso rendition of ‘Big Love’ it is quite simply one of the most astounding five minutes of music this reviewer has ever witnessed. His frantic solo plucking adds a timeless zeal to what is essentially a very eighties slab of power rock, and the physical impact of him chanting side by side with his visceral twangs is mesmerising. It’s one of the true greats of rock at his glorious best.

The highlights then stack up. The touching gaze of love between the duo reappears on ‘Landslide’, and the stadium shaking rock of ‘Eyes of the World’ allows Mick Fleetwood’s powerhouse drumming to reverberate around the arena.

Interspersed with it is the occasional monologue about the anguish that perforated their songwriting; they’re constantly playing on all the pain and it adds to the feeling of being very much engrossed in this never ending saga, regardless of the apparent resolutions.

Nicks continues her revitalisation with stunning aplomb when left to her own devices as well, the heartbreak echoing from her voice throughout ‘Gypsy’ before her status as a dark folk witch is ratified during an astounding 'Gold Dust Woman’, her turn as a pre-goth queen bedecked in gold shawl infused with desire that allows her to transcend her age.

‘Go Your Own Way’ sees the group leave the stage for the first time, a rambunctious parting shot that lifts everyone to their feet in unison. When they return it’s for an epic portrayal of ‘World Turning’ with Mick Fleetwood, who has been oddly adorning more and more clothing throughout like a manic human buckaroo, slipping into a trancelike state as he batters his drums. ‘Don’t Stop’ then follows, the group saying goodbye with Rumours’ most upbeat but no less acerbic song.

They return for two more songs, Rumours offcut ‘Silver Springs’ and the clichéd but appropriate ‘Say Goodbye’. By no means the most powerful or memorable record in the group’s arsenal, it serves as a poignant ending to a truly memorable showing, a triumph that somehow despite the searing feelings that have encapsulated the group they are still there, but with that lingering agony rippling throughout every note and word ushered through our ears.

This wasn’t a perfect show by any stretch, the lack of Christine McVie’s counterpart lyricism (aside from ‘Don’t Stop’) and pop perfection voice dims the overall Mac experience, particularly due to the fact she has reunited (albeit briefly) with the band on certain tour dates (the above video shows her at an earlier date at the O2 arena in London). And whilst the opening troubles are quickly consigned it’s a shame that both ‘Dreams’ and ‘Rhiannon’ aren’t as evocative as they truly deserve to be.

Overall though that’s splitting hairs - this is a near three hour tour de force of anger, pain, love and stunning music that is arguably the most unflinchingly awkward experience of nostalgia you’ll ever witness. It’s part rock extravaganza, part fly on the wall therapy session, and wholly gripping entertainment that is as good value as the excessive pricing can create.

It’s unlikely we will ever see a group possessing such an innately human struggle as its artistic backbone quite like this, even less plausible they’ll deliver that story with such searing conviction in their twilight. Fleetwood’s final words sum it all up… “the Mac is Back”.