TAMPA — When Christine McVie ditched Fleetwood Mac in 1998, the piano-playing songbird took with her any semblance of levity that existed in the bed-hopping, turmoil-tossing band. She made loving fun; the rest of 'em made loving sound like a knife fight.
The remaining quartet, which played the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday, is now built solely on headstrong, prickly pieces: the steady apathy of bassist John McVie, the googly-eyed madness of warlockian drummer Mick Fleetwood, the beautifully broken mysticism of singer Stevie Nicks, the winning petulance of guitar virtuoso Lindsey Buckingham.
"As many of you know, Fleetwood Mac has had a complex and convoluted emotional history," Buckingham told the tidy, intense crowd of 10,008 fans. But for this tour, he added, they "just wanted to go out and have fun."
Fun is a relative term when most of your shattered-sunset songs are about how much you once despised the person next to you. For a good part of five decades, the Mac has been dysfunctionally functional. Even though all but one member is now in their 60s, those crazy kids are still working out their junk onstage.
That said, they're also really good at their jobs
For two-plus hours and 23 songs, Buckingham and Nicks traded hits, verses and curious looks, as the beatmakers behind them kept the heat on. Although the singers were separated onstage, overhead video screens were split to simultaneously show both, almost as if they were smooching.
For her Sara, Nicks started on one microphone but wandered over to Buckingham's, finally resting her head on his shoulder. The crowd went bonkers: a great tune and a soap opera all in one!
In the hottest moment, Buckingham performed a solo acoustic version of Big Love, his fastest fingers flying, a baroque frenzy of licks and frustration. After that, Nicks came back for Landslide, the end of which she spent staring into her former flame's eyes: "And I'm getting older, too."
There have been reports that Nicks, 60, has been less-than-lucid on this tour. But although she looked half-lidded, her voice was a wounded-bird marvel. With her long blond hair flowing, she busted out the twirly dance for Stand Back. She did a bizarro shadow thingie for the sexy thunder of Gold Dust Woman. Nicks was great — loopy and possibly possessed, but great.
For all the rarities they dusted off (Storms, I Know I'm Not Wrong, Oh Well), the band made sure to include the ones you warbled on the way to work this morning: Rhiannon, Gypsy, The Chain. Although she was certainly missed, Christine McVie was honored with just one tune: Say You Love Me.
If there were any concern that well-worns such as Don't Stop and Go Your Own Way have lost oomph due to ubiquity, Buckingham took care of that with a flourish, putting liquid, hair-raising solos into each.
The Mac closed with Silver Springs, a B-side from 1977's combative Rumours album. The song sounds gentle, nice, hopeful. Maybe it made sense to leave it off that warring album. But 32 years later, it's appropriate to bring it back. Give them time, and these crazy kids might figure things out after all.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.