Every year on the Friday before the Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy’s charitable organization MusiCares holds a benefit honoring a legendary living artist — such as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Tom Petty — in which covers of their songs are performed by other artists and then the honoree comes out for a big finale. In addition to raising millions for a thematically and humanistically worthy cause — MusiCares providing medical and emergency assistance to thousands of musicians and music execs in need — is essentially an insurance company for It’s a tentpole event of Grammy Week and makes for legendary performances, and this year, wherein Fleetwood Mac was honored, was no exception.
It was the first year a band, rather than a single person, had been honored, and a lot of bands performed, which made for a lot of set changes and thus a lot of gaps between performances. Yet the show managed to keep momentum. It opened with Imagine Dragons doing a hard-hitting version of “Big Love,” followed by Brandi Carlile bringing some soulful sass to Christine McVie’s “Say That You Love Me.” Keith Urban was well-matched with “Second-Hand News”; Little Big Town brought powerful four-part harmonies to “Dreams”; Portugal. The Man brought an oddball rock vibe to Lindsey Buckingham’s “I’m So Afraid.”
Jared Leto, clad all in white, with long hair and a bigger-than-ever beard spoke of how much his family loved “Rumours” when he was growing up. He sang a very slow version of “Never Going Back Again” accompanied by a battery of acoustic guitarists and a 20-odd member gospel choir; it was ambitious but his voice wasn’t quite up to the task.
Conversely, Miley Cyrus — accompanied just by acoustic guitar, string bass and violin — brought impressive country nuance to “Landslide,” belting only briefly on the middle section.
Yet of all the night’s performances, Lorde’s may have been the most powerful: She embodied Stevie’s “Silver Springs” like it was one of her own songs, bringing it her trademark blend of aggression and caressing.
The tribute portion ended with the Zac Brown Band, an unexpected but effective choice for “Don’t Stop,” and next up was: Former President Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton thanked group for its charity efforts and spoke of “how proud I am to honor the band whose famous song, ‘Don’t Stop,’ has been played for me more times than ‘Hail to the Chief.’” He also recalled in 1991, as he was deciding whether or not to run for office, being told by a young cab driver that he should run — “and this should be your theme song.” The driver cued up a cassette of “Don’t Stop.”
“So I’m here because I have to be — I owe them more than any of you do,” Clinton said, to laughter. “And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The five bandmembers were then called to the stage, and while all spoke except bassist John McVie, Stevie Nicks delivered a very Stevie Nicks speech that encapsulated the moment.
She said that at the age of nearly 70, her parents and mentors had died, “So what do I have? I have you — I have the people who love our music.” She mentioned talking with guest singer Harry Styles backstage. He’d seen a look on her face and asked if anything was wrong, “And I said ‘I’m nervous.’ He said, ‘How could you be nervous,’ and I said ‘Harry, it never goes away — and when it does, you’re in trouble.’”
She also spoke of her friend and collaborator Tom Petty, who died of an accidental drug overdose in September and whose daughter Adria was in the audience. “The loss of Tom Petty has just about broken my heart,” she said. “He was a great father and a great friend — one of my best friends. He was honored [at MusiCares] last year and he talked to me a lot about how much it meant to him. And maybe he was talking about it because he was ill. He fought his way through that [final] tour — he should have cancelled and gone home and gone to the hospital But not Tom. So he finished his tour at the Hollywood Bowl — three shows — and a week later he died.
“So Tom, I know you’re standing here next to me. You always are. “
After a brief break, Harry Styles introduced the band: “There are several things I never thought I’d be doing in life, sharing the stage with these legends, let alone introducing them.” He performed with them for a solid version of “The Chain,” but was far stage left, as if reluctant to step into the circle; Buckingham gave him a big hug at the end of the performance anyway.
By this point the night was well into its third hour and most of the band’s classics had already been performed, so a pair of curves came up next. McVie’s “Sweet Little Lies” was met with nodding semi-familiarity by the crowd, along with several mouthed “What song is this?” Next up was “Tusk,” complete with Buckingham’s maniacal laughter, a drum solo section at the middle and the marching band segment played on keyboards; it’s certainly not the easiest song to play live and the camera operators had challenges finding people rocking in the crowd to cut away to. The group, which toured just last summer, was in strong shape although they did have a lot of help in the form of two guitarist/singers, two backing singers and a second drummer. But Buckingham played his stinging solos, Fleetwood crashed his gong and most importantly, Nicks worked the tambourine like no one else can.
Dry ice descended for Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman,” for which she donned one of her trademark spangly shawls. The band stretched out the end of the song into a low-key psychedelic jam while Nicks did her trademark witchy dance.
Inevitably, the show concluded with a rousing “Go Your Own Way” that even had the Clintons out of their seats and swaying.