This review was amended on July 23, 2003.
Evidence that a fissure still exists among the creatives in Fleetwood Mac is found throughout their troubled current Warner release “Say You Will” and it carries over into their two-hour, greatest hits-dominated show. On one side is Stevie Nicks, who has written half the tunes on the new disc and who plays the oldies the way they were recorded, even if it means a less-than intense perf. On the other is Lindsey Buckingham, who pens the rest of the material, often with partners; he is on a mission to showcase himself in concert as a guitar god capable of playing in the same league as the Mac’s early six-stringers, Peter Green and Danny Kirwan. Buckingham seemingly no longer cares about his reputation as a master song craftsman.
But when the best of all possible collide, as they did on “Landslide” and “Go Your Own Way” at the first of two sold-out nights at Staples Center, Nicks and Buckingham are a model of perfection. And on the disc, they proffer evidence that this can still be a vital act, mainly via the exquisite “Destiny Rules,” which combines the classic elements that distinguished Fleetwood Mac during their popular run in the 1970s: Buckingham fingerpicking figures from which Nicks carves a melody, singing about romance in metaphysical terms over Mick Fleetwood’s snappy rhythm.
“Destiny Rules” didn’t make it into Friday’s 23-song set list, a pity considering the fact that it would be the one new tune that could hold the audience rapt. The title track works well enough in the show, though “Peacekeeper,” with Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” echoing through its chorus, lacks weight, and “Say Goodbye,” with Buckingham and Nicks taking a stab at Simon & Garfunkel folkiness, feels unfinished and in need of lyrical editing.
But on Buckingham’s “Come,” another wordy entry from the new disc, the guitarist turned savage and aggressively attacked the guitar in a hard and heavy manner rarely seen in this band since its late ’60s blues-rock days. It’s shocking at first when Buckingham turns the act into a power trio, yet as self-indulgent as he gets, there’s no doubt that he is a remarkably inventive guitarist. It does open the door, in a pipedream at least, for Fleetwood and bassist John McVie to restore some of the early — and often brilliant — FM repertoire such as “Albatross” and “Oh Well.”
Nicks, who leaves the stage when Buckingham goes his own way, is now the melodic center of the band. She has her inconsistent moments — she stumbled on “Rhiannon” but enhanced “Dreams” with aged huskiness — though she’s now relied upon to hold the group together as a pop act. It all points to how much the piano and voice of Christine McVie are missed; the mother-child dynamic between Stevie and Christine, obvious more in hindsight than back in the day, is absent — as is the softness her keyboard work brought to their overall sound. (Keyboardist Brett Tuggle only got to shine on “Go Your Own Way.”)
Fleetwood Mac isn’t quite ready to float completely on a wave of nostalgia and, as “Destiny’s Rules” suggests, their ability to work together is not a thing of the past. A little more focus, elimination of “Tusk” — it doesn’t work without a live marching band — and a reduction in Fleetwood’s off-the-wall drum solo and war chant would go a long way toward reclaiming the Mac of yore.
Sound technicians deserve special credit for making this Mac show one of the most listenable affairs in Staples Center’s four-year history. Instruments and voices had strong separation and clarity from start to finish with no glitches along the way. Fleetwood Mac performs Wednesday and Thursday at the Pond in Anaheim.