- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

PHILADELPHIA | Even 20 percent of Fleetwood Mac — plus a backing section of some of the best session players in the biz — can bring in a solid evening of rock old and new. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, who are touring behind their eponymous new duet album, came to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia Friday evening in support of the album.

Despite stifling summer heat, the duo brought an energy and verve to the outdoor arena — even as many of the fans left early in the evening swelter. Mr. Buckingham and Miss McVie made a fanfare-free entrance, immediately taking places at center stage and strumming into an acoustic set featuring “Trouble” and “Wish You Were Here.” Mr. Buckingham then took his place in the spotlight alone, strumming his guitar to the strains of “Never Going Back Again,” one of Fleetwood Mac’s signature songs, and one that has continued to provide Mr. Buckingham with a prominent launching pad for his stellar tenor vocals. He expertly modulated the tune to suit both his desired inflections and timing, stretching out the brisk tune into a masters class of vocal control and showmanship.

Then joined by their backup musicians, the duo launched into a mini-set from their new album. Many of the 2017 songs, including “Feel About You” and “Too Far Gone,” have the energy and the harmonic joy of the best of the duo’s time with their bandmates, and Miss McVie and Mr. Buckingham complement one another nicely on vocals on the lively new songs.

Miss McVie and Mr. Buckingham told only brief stories of recording the album together, and of how, when Miss McVie rejoined the band in 2014, she began writing songs again and sharing the samples with the guitarist, who helped fill them out.

“Now we’ll do a few songs you’ll probably recognize,” the artists said before setting up more Mac covers, including “You Make Loving Fun,” “Little Lies” and “Hold Me,” proving that even in the absence of Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie, the joy of performing many of the band’s most famous songs can stand even in their absence. (It must be noted, however, that Miss McVie struggled for some of the higher notes on “You Make Loving Fun,” but given her lengthy time away from the spotlight, this can be forgiven.)

Mr. Buckingham, righteously praised as one of the greatest guitarists in rock, delivered the goods on what are, arguably, two of his signature songs from the Fleetwood Mac repertoire. As the percussively hushed nature of “Tusk” began, Mr. Buckingham began the verses in his quiet register, allowing the chords and the low percussion to do the talking for him. However, as the rock anthem, a favorite of college marching bands such as the University of Southern California — of which I am an alum — strode on toward its later verses, Mr. Buckingham became ever more animated, screaming for the Mann’s rafters in between lyrics. It was rock ‘n’ fanfare of the highest order.

And yet, as any Mac fan knows well, the highlight of any of their performances is the late-show duet between Mr. Buckingham and Mr. Fleetwood on “I’m So Afraid,” which, like “Tusk,” starts off sotto voce before attaining a fierceness of epic rock proportions. Even in the absence of Mr. Fleetwood for the call-and-response nature of the tune from “Rumours,” Mr. Buckingham and his able fill-in percussionist gradually rose the beautiful terror of the song to an assured, all-enveloping ecstasy. Nearby, I could see a gray-haired bloke I had run into in the men’s room not long before positively leaping in joy as Mr. Buckingham wailed on his strings, spun his axe about his waist and eventually brought the song to a satisfying, exhausted finale, pulling the audience to their feet in appreciation.

It was the evening’s high point, hands down.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Buckingham and Miss McVie finished their set with that apex paean of breakup songs, “Go Your Own Way,” trading off the delightful harmonies that for four decades have belied the painful nature of the lyrics of separation.

Cheering for more, the duo and their band returned for “Everywhere,” the synth-heavy Mac tune Miss McVie still continues to elevate to ecstasy with her vocals.

Mr. Buckingham said they would cap the evening with two more new tunes, a bit of a head-scratcher for an encore after such a high-energy past few songs, and even more surprising given that so many audience members continued to depart from the heat. (A few more Mac songs might have kept at least some of them in place.)

Overall, in 90 minutes and change, this highly talented micro-configuration of one of rock’s classic acts — which, Miss McVie told me recently, will likely celebrate its half-century in 2018 with a tour — proved that there is always something new to be written by talented musicians and more songs yet to be born from their musical fonts. But also, the old tunes remain vibrant so long as their performers do.

In the latter case, we need not worry.


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