The closing perfs of her lengthy U.S. tour found Stevie Nicks living up to the title of her new album, “Trouble in Shangri-La.” Her indecisive show swings back and forth between nice touches and off-the-mark moves that eventually steamroll into a massive missed opportunity, one that would have allowed Nicks to separate herself from the 1970s when her voice helped transform Fleetwood Mac from a Brit blues machine into the definitive hitmaking machine of the era. What little we did hear of her new material was performed gracefully and aptly; the classics, for whatever reason, found Nicks overpowering the material and the band, quite often, underplaying.
The lights went down and the PA played Destiny’s Child’s recent hit “Bootylicious,” a tune that finds its hook in Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” Though Destiny’s Child’s audience is much younger, more racially mixed and more likely to have little interest in Fleetwood Mac, Nicks’ use of the tune attempts to pronounce her work as still culturally relevant, as if the appeal of Beyonce Knowles can somehow be explained through a sample. Nearly two hours later, as guitarist Waddy Wachtel was stretching out the “Edge of Seventeen” riff to close out the main portion of the show, Nicks was involved in a sprawling mess of a rendition — the sort of thing Fleetwood Mac would do before she was in the band and, with Lindsay Buckingham, made it more song-centric. The Destiny’s Child record compacts the melody, Nicks expands it and, as we all know, excess is out these days.
“Trouble in Shangri-La” may lack the obvious singles of her earlier work but its personality, production and lyrics make it the strongest album in her seven-disc body of work. The glorious stage set, a seaside villa with an archway allowing a view of the water, is based on “Shangri-La’s” cover, but only a handful of the disc’s tunes found their way into the show. “Fall From Grace,” from the new album, was one of the jewels in this performance as was “Too Far From Texas,” in which Sheryl Crow ably sang the part handled by the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines on the disc.
New material had a freshness and effectiveness that the older material, particularly the Mac stuff, didn’t possess. The band is competent and maybe even over-rehearsed, but they are asked to re-create studio-formulated masterpieces such as “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman” rather than bring something new to the picture; “Rhiannon” started out as a downtempo ballad with just acoustic piano backing and it brought a welcome new circumstance to the tune. But, alas, the band kicked in, pumping a midtempo number with a dated arrangement; it might as well have been an FM tribute act.
Pacing was equally troublesome as she attempted to showcase guest Crow, who produced almost half the tracks on “Shangri-La.” Crow would come and go, sing backup or toss out tasty versions of “Everyday Is a Winding Road” and “My Favorite Mistake” — she actually appeared to be having more fun here than in her own shows — and Nicks wasn’t certain whether to stay or leave the stage when Crow was at the mic. During the other times she left the stage, the musicians got to stretch out — none too impressively — and the time spent on one instrumental, an overblown percussion duet, could have been better spent playing a new tune. Don Henley made a surprise visit to sing his part on their duet hit from 20 years ago, “Leather and Lace”; they were both superb.
Nicks spoke a handful of times about being affected by the turmoil of the past month — unfurled red, white and blue ribbons hung from her tambourine and mic stand — and maybe this led her to find comfort in her best-known material. But so much of “Shangri-La” concerns finding inner strength and perseverance, perfect subject matters in this troubled time. And had she turned to “Touched by an Angel,” a soothing ballad she recorded for the “Sweet November” soundtrack, she could have let the audience leave with a touch of poignancy rather than a checklist of the hits she missed.