Courtney Love, Mark Ronson, Joanna Newsom and More Pay Tribute to Fleetwood Mac at L.A.'s Fonda Theatre: Live Review

Fleetwood Mac
Paul A. Hebert/Press Line/Splash

Fleetwood Mac was paid tribute at Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre on Feb. 9, the first of two consecutive evenings where the iconic group was covered by a litany of stars.

Throughout the Fleetwood Mac Fest, hosts The Cabin Down Below Band served as the house backup for a cavalcade of vocalists and performers. The cast was vast and eclectic, threaded only by their connection to the band, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Christine McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood performing in the original lineup.

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More than 30 artists gathered backstage, emerging mostly one-by-one to put a spin on their respective song of choice. Emcee Austin Scaggs, who hosted with little pizzazz, manned the bass as his backup band welcomed the stream of names that marked the poster, with a few surprise exceptions.

Of the guests, the standouts burned bright. Juliette Lewis, introduced as the actress from Cape Fear, gave a ferocious take on Nicks’ “Stand Back,” dressed in dandelion body suit, while Dead Sara lead singer Emily Armstrong gave the strongest performance of the night with “Edge of Seventeen.” Bold and bright, the hat-brimmed singer clutched the song with ease, delivering her cover like a true professional possessing an assured understanding of the source material. Hole frontwoman Courtney Love was impassioned during “Silver Springs”; Mark Ronson and Alison Mosshart held down guitar and vocals for the soulful “Dreams”; and comedienne Sarah Silverman joined musician extraordinaire Butch Walker for the delightfully hearty “Go Your Own Way.”

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“This is a really slow-paced, deep-cut ballad that I think you'll love," Silverman said, shortly before launching into the track. “One of the songs you never hear when you think of the catalog of Fleetwood Mac. Just kidding, it's this.”

It was comedic respite, one that merely underlined how viable some musicians were in comparison to another. A somewhat uncomfortable Will Forte shifted aside the remarkable Karen Elson for Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Forte then left the stage and left duties to Elson, who gave a spot-on rendition of “Rhiannon,” a bold homage that would have made Nicks proud. Jessie Baylin gritted up “Gypsy,” and KT Tunstall nailed “You Make Loving Fun,” adding to a fine procession of artists with a firm grasp on the music they attempted.

Some of the strongest chemistry came from more established acts, no doubt in tune from years of practice. Phases, which is playing Coachella this April, perfected “Everywhere,” and a seated Jamestown Revival went beyond with “Never Going Back Again,” slide guitars and all.

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Oddly enough, the more established artists gave the most disjointed performances. Perry Farrell was drowned out by his wife Eddy on “Gold Dust Woman,” and Cold War Kids left the crowd limp with “Man of the World.” Joanna Newsom, whose 2015 album Divers was one of the year’s best, felt out-of-place at the keys for “Beautiful Child.” Some seemed to pick covers by affinity though failed to connect, their styles never quite aligning.

But those were minor footnotes in the night’s overall scheme. Fleetwood Mac Fest, meant to benefit Sweet Relief and The Sweet Stuff Foundation, was a finely architected spectacular, a potpourri of talent giving new life to canonized material, one that justified a concert worth assembling.