Fleetwood Mac Caps Classic West With Poignant Closing Set

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac performs during The Classic West at Dodger Stadium on July 16, 2017 in Los Angeles.
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Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac performs during The Classic West at Dodger Stadium on July 16, 2017 in Los Angeles.  

Fleetwood Mac operates on one’s imagination in a way few other bands can -- whether within your musical memory, or onstage at Dodger Stadium as they were Sunday night (July 16), for the second evening of Classic West.

The sweetly intoned, plaintive melodies of Christine McVie, the now-gentle, now-angry mini-operas of Stevie Nicks, and what might be called the ecstatic agonies (“Bleed To Love Her,” anyone?) of Lindsey Buckingham, all swirl into an understanding that emotion will come to the fore. The shorthand for their genre is “hits," and they delivered plenty to a crowd that roared appreciatively from the time the lights went down to usher in “The Chain” to the last notes of “Don’t Stop,” 20 songs later.

The inherent drama that suffuses any Fleetwood Mac performance might be baldly stated as “Who’s still in love with whom?” and the band not only lives with that as a sometimes-aggravating hangover -- reliving your late twenties onstage as a member of a band whose average age hovers near 70 can’t always be easy -- but as an evergreen dramatic conceit.

Opening with “The Chain” definitely fed the beast of tortured past relationships as a topic: “And if you don’t love me now/ You will never love me again” reverberated with feeling even as it showcased the group’s durable trademark sound -- Fleetwood’s funereal drumbeats, John McVie’s underrated mutterings on bass, the ladies’ baleful harmonies, and Buckingham’s venomous leads. Buckingham’s clearly incapable of pretending it’s an evening’s casual entertainment and would come on at the end -- spotlight chasing him as he gyrated somewhere near the park’s bullpen -- to reinforce that he’s one of the great closers in the trade.

Nicks, no slouch herself at fully projecting a somebody-done-somebody-wrong song, greeted the magnitude of the event with an early yawp of ready enthusiasm, and punctuated “The Chain” with a declamatory “No!” emphasizing the song’s warning. For his part Buckingham instructed “Run run, run run!” with what felt like climactic urgency. And yet, this was just the set opener. (In fact, Cindy Crawford was just finding her seat near the front of the crowd who seemed to fill much of the park’s 55,000-seat capacity. Earlier in the Forum Club, where the laminate-holders assembled, there was much speculation as to how gauzily veiled attendee Bjork was going to deal with the barbeque that was on offer.)

McVie’s “You Make Loving Fun,” with her own pearlescent keyboard work, was a fine palate cleanser, and Nicks, who had recently carped lightly about McVie’s duet album and tour with Buckingham, quickly established with fond glances and earnest harmonizing that the Englishwoman is still her musical bestie. Notably here, and during other potentially challenging patches of the Mac canon, a pair of female back-up singers and a second keyboardist were somewhat shadowy but not clandestine contributors throughout the set.

The hits and occasional deeper cuts spilled forth -- Stevie’s never-quite-saccharine “Dreams," Lindsay’s “Second Hand News," Nicks' “Rhiannon” (done right but just shy of the abandoned passion she can sometimes lend it). Her “Sara” was dramatized to the frankly gaping crowd by a stroll to Buckingham’s side that ended in a sweet, if slightly awkward ex-lovers’ hug, and the set moved on through the catalog to “Landslide,” a song she recently told an English audience she has never skipped in concert. She dedicated it this night to the late Eagle Glenn Frey, with a warm nod to his son Deacon, who filled in for Glenn at the band's Classic West gig the night before.

A little past the midpoint of the two-hour set, with Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again” -- the chipper chords fighting it out with the lyrics’ painful regrets -- you could sense the turn towards home. The backdrop for “Gypsy,” by contrast to the bucolic images of trees and landscapes that previously dominated, deployed images that reminded the audience of that 1982 hit’s big-budget video. 1977’s “Gold Dust Woman” -- written, like “Gypsy,” around the time Nicks was having a later well-chronicled cocaine problem (even making a gesture of spooning something towards her face during her performance here) -- exemplifies the singer’s capability to match her life experiences up with rigorously savvy songwriting, and deliver it all with gritty certitude. 

The previous night’s concert-capping performance by Eagles had taken on its own memorable gravitas as a tribute to the departed Frey, and given the many purchasers of two-day passes, the question hanging in the periphery was who scored best across six acts? Certainly Sunday’s opening set by Earth Wind and Fire was wonderfully played, polyrhythmic and got the house happily rocking, and Journey’s mid-show performance began with a wild momentum that carried from opener ”Separate Ways” through the fourth song, “Stone in Love,” as guitarist Neal Schon played with energy and precision. He owned the video screens while seemingly wardrobed for an MTV time capsule in bandana and shiny red jacket, gnashing his gum and very much on planet Neal  --save for the moment when he dedicated “Lights’ to original singer Steve Perry. (Perry’s vocal replacement Arnel Pineda was reliably on the money.)

In Fleetwood Mac’s set, with an inevitable pair of song choices and an encore remaining, Buckingham stepped up with a certain I-got-this resolve. “I’m So Afraid” drills down to the parts most other singer-songwriters rarely reach -- as in, “Agony’s torn at my heart too long” -- with a performance to match, and as unsparingly frenzied as his vocal is, the lyrics can seem to be simply the platform for one of rock guitar’s signature epic workouts. Buckingham did not disappoint, at times even skipping about, though not in a carefree way, as the notes shrieked across Chavez Ravine.

By that time there, was only one song that could be thoroughly apt for the moment, and for the welcome release of the romantic tension that has served Fleetwood Mac so well even as it’s bedeviled them. The ringing chords of "Go Your Own Way" have joined with its freely stated pathos to make it a generational anthem, and if the message is plain as the author once stated to Dan Rather -- “It’s a damn shame -- it‘s not what I want” -- once again it made many thousands of concertgoers feel thoroughly fulfilled.

The break before the valedictory “Don’t Stop” was brief, and as the small temporary city headed for their various traffic jams, fireworks crackled and thumped overhead. There hasn't been much heard lately of the prospects for another Mac tour -- but based on the rattle, hum and heart of what the Dodger Stadium crowd witnessed, fans should wish the chain to remain unbroken for one more go-round.