Fleetwood Mac soars and dips at first San Diego concert with two new band members

Ouch!

The newly revamped lineup of Fleetwood Mac that performed Saturday at San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena didn’t begin its concert by burning in effigy recently ousted guitarist and singer-songwriter, Lindsey Buckingham, at least not literally. Nor did the 51-year-old band — now touring with two new members in his place — display any Photo-shopped pictures of Buckingham being poked in the eye on any of the three video screens that bedecked the stage.

But figuratively and musically?

Double-ouch!

The new/old band, which fired Buckingham in January, kicked off its hits-fueled, two-hour Saturday concert here with an especially impassioned version of “The Chain.” Not coincidentally, Fleetwood Mac performed the same song to open its 2014 Viejas Arena show, when Buckingham was still front and center. (It was the second song played at the band’s 2013 Viejas Arena concert.)

A standout number from “Rumours,” Fleetwood Mac’s classic 1977 album, “The Chain” was co-written by Buckingham and the group’s four remaining veterans, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (who co-founded the band), and three longtime members who joined in the 1970s — singer-keyboardist Christine McVie and singer Stevie Nicks, Buckingham’s former girlfriend.

A love-gone-wrong song, “The Chain” is also tribute to tenacity and overcoming obstacles. Those attributes have defined Fleetwood Mac through its numerous lineup changes, including Christine McVie’s 16-year absence between 1998 and 2014.

Post-Buckingham, “The Chain’s” haunting refrain — I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain / Never break the chain — now has a new, unmistakably defiant, in-your-face tone.

True, no one sang the words: “We’re doing fine without you, Lindsey.” But that seemed to be the underlying message from the band, which has replaced Buckingham with former Crowded House singer/guitarist Neil Finn and former Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist Mike Campbell.

Buckingham, who filed suit against Fleetwood Mac over his ouster, can take some solace that his role requires two musicians to fill. (In an interview this past weekend on “CBS This Morning,” he said that suit has now been amicably settled.)

But Buckingham also had two replacements when he quit in 1987 to focus on his solo career, before returning to the band the next decade. And, as was the case when Billy Burnette and Rick Vito filled in for him 31 years ago, Finn and Campbell, two formidably talented music veterans, couldn’t quite fill the void left by Buckingham’s departure.

Both performed with skill and taste, as they helped deliver such Fleetwood Mac staples as “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Little Lies” and the Buckingham-penned — and newly prophetic — “Go Your Own Way.”

But neither could match the edgy, sometimes manic, energy Buckingham previously brought to the band. Moreover, his meticulously constructed guitar parts required Campbell to play most of them note-for-note. Finn, likewise, did his best to replicate Buckingham’s sturdy vocals, even if his higher pitch sometimes made Finn sound more like Graham Nash.

As a result, it was difficult for either of them to inject anything new or different into the songs. Of course, doing so might have been tantamount to treason — musically speaking — which made their tasks all the more defined and constricted.

It’s possible the two newbies were being overly respectful to the legacy of Fleetwood Mac and the songs themselves. Whatever the reason, it’s telling that two of Saturday’s crowd-pleasing highlights were cover versions — Crowded House’s luminous “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” the latter of which featured the often tired and flat-sounding Nicks’ most spirited singing of the night.

A rock ‘n’ roll survivor, much like the band she helps anchor, Nicks earned big cheers throughout. Perhaps suffering from tour fatigue, her husky voice seemed unable to hit certain notes, although she rose up and soared on the moody “Gold Dust Woman.”

Finn, 60, is Fleetwood Mac’s youngest member and 10 years Nicks’ junior. She joined him for a stripped down version of “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and it was one of the most touching and musically intimate moments of the evening.

As usual, drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie — who are 71 and 73, respectively — provided a rock-solid rhythm section and Fleetwood’s musical and visual enthusiasm were infectious. Christine McVie, the band’s senior member at 75, was clearly enjoying herself, despite some periodic microphone problems.

The audience appeared to be close in size to the 10,000 fans that turned up for Fleetwood Mac’s sold-out 2014 concert at Viejas Arena. Live Nation, the company that promoted both shows at Viejas, declined to provide attendance figures for Saturday’s performance, unlike in 2014.

Matching the concert-opening “Chains” in significance was Saturday’s final number, “Don’t Stop,” Christine McVie’s buoyant 1977 ode to a brighter future in the face of adversity.

In between “Chains” and “Don’t Stop” came 19 other songs. They stretched back as far as the 1968 Fleetwood Mac single “Black Magic Woman” (which became a 1971 hit for Santana) and 1969’s blues-rocking “Oh Well.” The latter was a showcase for Campbell’s blazing guitar work and his only lead vocal of the night.

Even more unfamiliar for many in the near-capacity audience — judging by the streams of people who headed to the bathrooms and concession stands — was 1970’s rollicking “Tell Me All The Things You Do.” It’s a chestnut from “Kiln House,” the band’s first album to feature (un-credited at the time) Christine McVie.

Like the rest of Saturday’s concert, “Tell Me” provided a loving look back at one of rock’s most successful and turbulent bands — and its remarkably durable repertoire of songs — but not a clue about the new-look Fleetwood Mac’s possible future.

george.varga@sduniontribune.com

Twitter @georgevarga


UPDATES:

9:15 a.m., Dec. 10: This review has been updated to indicate that ousted Fleetwood Mac band member Lindsey Buckingham’s suit against his now-former band has been amicably settled.

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