The tall and lanky Mick Fleetwood was the first member of Fleetwood Mac to appear onstage at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. As he waved to the crowd, he made his ceremonial counterclockwise circle to his drum kit and stretched out his arms to begin the traditional opening song of “The Chain.” John McVie, who has stood stoically by his side for more than fifty years, began playing the rumbling bass chords. Guitarist Mike Campbell looked at Fleetwood and raised his right arm in unison. If Campbell and the other new guitarist Neil Finn weren’t quite the interlopers they might have first appeared to be, at least you could say the lyrics about never breaking “The Chain” seemed ironic.
Where predecessor Lindsey Buckingham yielded a torrential solo after the songs climactic bridge, Campbell and Finn were restrained almost holding guitar serve. On the stage that Buckingham once stalked, the new guitarists were reverential and almost anti-flashy but attentive to the details that made for a thunderous opening.
Stevie Nicks traded lines for most of the night with lead vocalist and guitarist Neil Finn, one of the two guitarists who with Mike Campbell replaced Buckingham last year. It would have been unimaginable that Nicks could have harmonized and shared lead lines with Buckingham while looking him straight in the eye as she did Finn on some of the rawest lines. “Packin’ up, shackin’ up’s all you want to do,” the two sang during “Go Your Own Way,” with the distance of age in a drama free zone. Where the tension was part of the draw for the theater of Buckingham Nicks, Nicks now seemed loose and limber and happy to be just one of the band.
In many ways this version of the band was like Fleetwood Mac going back to work in only the way they know. At the core were co-founder drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie and Christine McVie on keyboards who joined shortly after the band was formed, retired and then came back. The band was always formed by the complementary parts around them, the guitarists who come in and out throughout their history save for the unusual longevity of the Buckingham Nicks era.
Lindsey Buckingham’s solo shows last Fall were more like a town hall with fans exclaiming their love for the fallen, “fired” guitarist. At the Warner Theater, I heard one shout out “Fleetwood who?” Enough time has passed and it was hard to hear any controversy in an arena. Most of all it’s hard not to like Campbell, the affable alumnus of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers who repeatedly tipped his hat in a show of humility and Finn whose pop melodies during Split Enz and Crowded House are permanently endearing.
There’s that magic moment in a concert when it feels like a band really clicks. It’s not that anything was wrong early in Fleetwood Mac’s set. But as the TelePrompTer rolled and the first few hits came in rapid succession (“Little Lies,” “Dreams,” “Second Hand News” and “Say You Love Me”), it all felt very professional. Then Stevie Nicks came to the mic and broke the ice with a confessional. She admitted that when she joined Fleetwood Mac she always thought “Black Magic Woman” was a song done by another band she chose not to name, not the original by Peter Green, the bands original guitarist, and Fleetwood Mac. She then cut loose for at least five minutes.
“I got a spell on you baby,” she kept repeating in the song’s key line while Campbell hovered around Christine McVie and rigged off her in an extended jam. The experience infused the band and Nicks for the night who later delivered an electrifying “Rhiannon” and a transcendent “Gold Dust Woman.” Nick’s who once cleaned houses before she joined Fleetwood Mac, is still the reigning rock and roll queen who was forever entranced by Janis Joplin and has been an icon for generations that have followed. As she sauntered across the entire stage, her blond hair flailing over her shoulders and flowing black ensemble, Nicks was in a trance and turned the arena into a psychedelic dance club.
“Baby, baby you should see me now,” she wailed in a sleek stream of consciousness that built line by line. “You can’t take me now…you wish you could do it but you can’t do it now.” It was hard not to think of this as a rejoinder to Buckingham as she ventured to the side of the stage where her ex-lover and guitarist once held prey. But it also felt like something more, like she was publicly exorcising all of the dark spirits that have plagued us in the #metoo era.
Fleetwood introduced Finn saying that his song reached him at a moment when he needed it most. Finn took center stage and began playing the song “Don’t Dream It’s Over” that is permanently ingrained in our subconscious. When Nicks approached and went into the last verse it was a magical moment,underscored by something she told Finn when he joined, that songs like this only come along for writers once in a lifetime.
Mike Campbell too stepped to the mic connecting past to present when in an odd moment he dedicated Peter Green’s “Oh Well” to the next president of the United States. This being Washington and open season for declaring candidacies, it wasn’t as much of a surprise as was the name: Iggy Pop the former frontman of the Stooges and renown golfer. Pop’s legitimacy as a candidate was an afterthought once the band started rampaging through Green’s jam.
Images of a younger Campbell flashed on the screen as the band took the stage for its first encore. Campbell, the best friend of Tom Petty and soul of the Heartbreakers, appeared in shot after shot with his late best friend. Stevie Nicks, often Petty’s duet partner, launched into an emotional rendition of “Free Falling” like she had always been one of the Heartbreakers. Nicks reverently turned her back to the audience and looked to the screen as an image of TP stayed still for an emotionally charged half minute.
Christine McVie counted down the second encore, “Don’t Stop” was liberated as a Clinton-era campaign anthem into what was introduced as a song about surviving.. McVie then joined Nicks for a duet of the obscure “All Over Again” with its lyrics in full display behind them from the all but forgotten Time album, a lost song suddenly made new and relevant again.
As they all hugged and bowed, the members of Fleetwood Mac took a curtain call and left the stage after twenty-one songs. All that is except for Fleetwood who stuck around. Earlier he had mesmerized during a drum clinic in “World Turning,” in an almost out of body experience, As the adrenalin was still pumping, he recounted how he had first taken to the stage with Fleetwood Mac all those years ago on a rainy afternoon at a festival. As this was once presumed to be a farewell tour, we were awaiting his parting goodbye. But Fleetwood was more philosophical and at age 71, didn’t quite seem ready to say its over.
“It’s a strange world out there,” he said reminding us to be kind to each other. “It all starts with loving ourselves.” As he finally left and the lights came up, the sound of Green’s soothing and hypnotic guitar chords emanated through the house PA system in “Albatross,” the instrumental that was the original band’s first hit.
It was like we were going back to the beginning. I stood, not quite able to leave. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the stage hands as they took down the show against the therapeutic strands of “Albatross.”
Fleetwood Mac was always Peter Green’s band and it was like he was still with us. It reminded me of something Stevie Nicks once told me: “No one ever really leaves Fleetwood Mac. They’re all here in spirit.”