"I think it's safe to say that we are a band that has seen its share of ups and downs... Most of them quite well documented," says Lindsey Buckingham, sweat dripping from his face and blood from his fingers, "But I think that also is what makes us what we are, because what doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
If it’s a clichéd sentiment, it’s a cliché that Fleetwood Mac invented. Their tumultuous personal lives have, as Buckingham is well aware, been the subject of reams of articles, biographies and interviews for much of the band’s nearly 50 years. Out of the ashes of their failed marriages and on-the-road affairs though, rose not only some of the greatest albums of the 20th century, but a renewed sense of togetherness. Now Christine McVie has returned after 16 years away, that togetherness has never been more palpable.
Tonight, on the first of two nights at the endlessly huge O2 Arena, Fleetwood Mac follow pretty much the same formula they set out decades ago. There are no costume changes, no pyrotechnics and no surprise guests. Even the screen behind them, the visuals of which are what I imagine an ambitious film student would produce if they were given a sizeable budget and a handful of Evanescence videos for inspiration, rarely attempts anything too grand. What is truly remarkable is the passion and enthusiasm they pour into every single note – notes they have played literally thousands of times before.
Stevie Nicks, the band’s most enduringly iconic member, lives up to that title as she spins, bows and soars birdlike across the stage – just like the Rhiannon of whom she sings. Her voice remains rich and textured, though with a little more gravel behind it now. She doesn’t attempt to touch the moments of falsetto that made songs like ‘Dreams’ so special, which is a shame, but the physical limitations of age had to manifest themselves somewhere – because they’re nowhere to be seen in any other aspect of her performance.
In many ways though, tonight is about Christine McVie, who returned to the band last year after 16 years away. When McVie first rang to float the idea of returning, Nicks tells the rapt audience, "She says, 'What would you think if I decided to come back to the band?' And I’m like, ‘Well, you’ve been gone for 16 years Chris. My little dog that I adore, the love of my life, you’ve missed her entire lifetime.'" Thankfully though, she didn’t miss the lifetime of Fleetwood Mac, and moments in which she takes centre-stage – on the ceaselessly heart-breaking 'Songbird', for example, and 'Everywhere' - are highlights.
There are a few occasions where the set takes a turn for the self-indulgent – mostly at the hands of Lindsey Buckingham, whose many extensive guitar solos are largely welcome, but whose lengthy, rambling monologues lead to shouts of 'Just play the song' from the crowd. Mick Fleetwood’s drum solo too does very little to rectify my aversion to them – but his sheer, childlike jubilation and frequent cries of 'Are you still with me?' are almost endearing enough to justify its existence.
Stevie Nicks’ dog never got to witness Christine McVie’s return to Fleetwood Mac. Tonight though, the 20,000 people in the O2 Arena did, and that – as the band continue, in Buckingham’s words, "a poetic, a profound, and a prolific new chapter in the history of this band" – is a wonderful thing.
Fleetwood Mac played:
You Make Loving Fun
Second Hand News
I Know I'm Not Wrong
Sisters of the Moon
Say You Love Me
Big Love (Lindsey Buckingham solo acoustic)
Never Going Back Again
Over My Head
Gold Dust Woman
I'm So Afraid
Go Your Own Way
Don't Stop Silver Springs
Fleetwood Mac's UK arena tour continues tonight once again at the O2 Arena, before continuing on to Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, and more (including four more nights at the O2). They'll also headline the Isle Of Wight Festival on 14 June. See full UK tour dates below. For tickets and more information click here.
THURSDAY 28 LONDON The O2
MONDAY 08 BIRMINGHAM Genting Arena
TUESDAY 09 BIRMINGHAM Genting Arena
FRIDAY 12 MANCHESTER Arena
TUESDAY 16 GLASGOW The SSE Hydro
WEDNESDAY 17 GLASGOW The SSE Hydro
MONDAY 22 LONDON The O2
WEDNESDAY 24 LONDON The O2
FRIDAY 26 LONDON The O2
SATURDAY 27 LONDON The O2
TUESDAY 30 LEEDS First Direct Arena
WEDNESDAY 01 MANCHESTER Arena
SATURDAY 04 BIRMINGHAM Genting Arena
SUNDAY 05 LEEDS First Direct Arena
WEDNESDAY 08 GLASGOW The SSE Hydro