Lindsey Buckingham may shrug off claims that he’s a visionary in “Not Too Late,” the song that opens both his new album, “Under the Skin” (Reprise), and the shows supporting it, but he arguably has the most restless and open ears of the mid-’70s Los Angeles classic rockers. Either by luck or design, the album — recorded over the last decade on the fly, in makeshift studios, while he toured with Fleetwood Mac — draws on some of the same influences that animate the current “freak folk” scene; the intricate finger picking that underpins many of the songs recalls Bert Jansch, Sandy Bull and John Fahey.
The early part of his 90-minute show Friday at the Wiltern mirrored the album’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a modestly scaled collection reflecting his contentment with love and family; “Show You How” and “It Was You” are built from the barest of elements — just guitar and minimal percussion and playful vocal interplay on the choruses.
Playing in the relatively snug Wiltern, you’d expect his perf to have a sense of intimacy. But the heavily compressed and processed guitar sound is so bright, brittle and metallic — the sound so sharply defined you can hear every scrape and snap as he plays — the guitar strings may as well be razor wire.
More troubling was that even when he’s joined by two guitarists and a percussionist, the latter triggering drum sounds by playing electronic pads (imitating the electronic rhythm section on the album — only the cymbals were live), the music had a limited sonic range.
At its best, the layered acoustic guitars of the new “Cast Away Dreams” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Red Rover” turned into something resembling the sound George Harrison and Phil Spector achieved on “All Things Must Pass.” The club-footed rendition of “Go Your Own Way” that closed the set showed how wrong it could go.
Yet for all of Buckingham’s modesty, the evening’s most satisfying moments came when he gave the music some room to expand, most notably on the bravura recasting of “I’m So Afraid” as prog-rock Neil Young, which brought the crowd to its feet.