Fleetwood Mac survived affairs between band members; affairs between band members and crew members, and affairs between band members and really hard drugs — all during the making of one record, 1977’s “Rumours.”
That’s not exactly the stuff celebrations are normally made of. But Fleetwood Mac packed the Verizon Center on Tuesday as part of a tour honoring “Rumours,” the soft-rock touchstone that ended up selling an estimated 40 million copies worldwide and hatched several tunes that remain on pop radio play lists and can still wow a crowd.
Fleetwood Mac goes back to 1967, when it was formed in London by British blues master Peter Green and existed mostly to cover tunes by American blues kings. But the band in its current incarnation has about as much in common with the original confab as the current Republican Party has to do with the GOP of Abe Lincoln. Green went his own way in 1970 because of mental illness, and soon enough blues was gone and the songwriting chores and stage spotlights were shared by a former sidewoman, Christine McVie, and two beautiful recruits from the Southern California rock scene, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. A surprisingly influential middle-of-the-road monster was born.
Four-fifths of the band that made “Rumours” remains, with McVie, who wrote and sang lead on much of the record, having departed in 1998. Her contributions were mostly ignored in the 21 / 2-hour set, but that still left plenty of nuggets for the mostly middle-aged crowd to revel in. The harmonies on “The Chain,” with its Crosby, Stills and Nash-like harmonies, showed the SoCal pop influence, and the fans went nutso after the bridge when 67-year-old John McVie set up a ferocious Buckingham guitar solo by plucking what has become sort of the “Smoke on the Water” of bass riffs.
The tell-all tune “Go Your Own Way” shined brightest among the rockers. Buckingham, who at 63 has somehow remained about as fetching physically as he was in the ’70s, spewed the nasty lines he wrote long ago about his then-recent ex-girlfriend Nicks (“Shacking up is all you wanna do”) and pounded on his guitar during an amazing solo run, as if the instrument had cheated on him, too.
He later joined Nicks for a duet on the evening’s best ballad, “Silver Springs,” a Nicks-penned tune which was recorded during the “Rumours” sessions but released as a B-side to “Go Your Own Way.” Buckingham didn’t make eye contact with Nicks, who over time has lost a few RPMs on her trademark whirling-dervish stage move, as she stared him down and bellowed, “You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you!” again and again.
The night wasn’t only about “Rumours.” Drummer Mick Fleetwood, 65, who lived in the D.C. area in the 1990s while running a nightclub named Fleetwood’s in Alexandria, got to shine during “Not That Funny” and “Tusk,” both cuts from a 1979 percussion-heavy double LP also called “Tusk” that served as a sort of musical equivalent of “Heaven’s Gate.” The band delivered the collection so over budget (it was labeled the costliest record ever made) that the album was considered a flop before it hit the bins. But, as Buckingham boasted while introducing the “Tusk” portion of the set, time has been kind. The record ended up selling in the multi-platinum range and has been embraced in more recent decades by scads of indie-rock bands, who have mined edginess from perhaps the most middle-of-the-road band in rock annals. Two examples: The Decemberists covered “Think About Me,” and Camper Van Beethoven covered the entire two-record set.
Tuesday’s set also included “Sad Angel,” a new song that Fleetwood Mac recently recorded but has not released. From the sound of things, Buckingham wrote the tune while his kids were playing Taylor Swift records.
For an encore, the band went back to the night’s raison d’etre and reprised “Don’t Stop.” Although it’s now best known for being the theme song of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Christine McVie originally wrote the song for former hubby John McVie after she’d left him for the band’s lighting director during the “Rumours” recording. Its strident, anti-nostalgia message — “Yesterday’s gone / Don’t you look back” — is great for an ex-lover, but, as evidenced by Fleetwood Mac throughout this very successful night, is best ignored by an aging rock combo.
McKenna is a freelance writer.