CLEARWATER — There was a moment Wednesday, during Fleetwood Mac's sour-patch Big Love, when it looked as if Lindsey Buckingham had 13 fingers. So fast, so passionate was his picking, the fretboard was covered in digits, like a blurry special effect from the Six Million Dollar Man.
But alas, like any mortal dude — or, for that matter, rock god — the 62-year-old sports 10 fingers, and such was the intimacy of the venue, every one of the 437 fans in the sold-out crowd were close enough to count for themselves.
Has Buckingham ever played a hall as intimate as the Capitol Theatre? Not counting his Southern California bathroom?
It was a surreal night for sure, but a privilege too, as Buckingham, on solo hiatus from his Mac mates, spent two hours making weird sonic magic in a joint no bigger than a jewelry box.
With his hair still high and his pinched handsome face touched by graying age, Buckingham took the stage alone at first, playing his own Shut Us Down, Go Insane, Trouble, voice and guitar blending, bending in a jangly metallic waterfall. He's smart enough to rearrange his hits but make sure their essence lingers.
The acoustics are crazy good at the Capitol, a dream spot for a studio wonk like Buckingham, who demands a sterling canvas for his trickery. He'd eventually bring three players out to join him, adding even more trippy layers. You'd pay attention at first, then, like Alice down the rabbit hole, you'd zoom off in your buzzy brain only to be dragged back by his "Ooh yeah!" yelps and euphoric guitar faces.
A little frazzled by the size and in-your-lap closeness of the venue, the rock icon would get distracted at times, the glare off his guitars bouncing around the teeny room. "It's like a death ray!" he laughed. "I'll have to be careful where I point that."
There were no references to his recent and unlikely Saturday Night Live fame, but alas, the famously intense guy was funnier, chummier than expected.
Buckingham's new album, this year's Seeds We Sow, lacks the hooks and sing-along-ability of his better work. But at the very least, he's always interesting, odd, out-there, and new stuff like Stars Are Crazy and the wistfully epic End of Time kept you rapt and curious nonetheless.
Buckingham would sneak in a few Fleetwood Mac gems, of course, ignoring most of the broad-stroke hits and going for the more personal ones: Never Going Back Again, Second Hand News, Tusk and, of course, Big Love. For that last one, he was like the coolest minstrel in the castle, his baroque fingerpicking style adapted for modern surge.
For all the smallness of the show, Buckingham wasn't afraid to go arena-style for one final wallop, riding a big booming intro, counting off 1-2-3 and then: "Loving you / Isn't the right thing to do / How can I ever change things / That I feel?"
So good! Go Your Own Way got the middle-aged crowd to its stomping feet, and Buckingham set that death ray on stun, picking out a high ringing riff that tested the walls of the house. It was fun, it was ferocious, and one more time, just to make sure, you counted those fingers.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.