Fleetwood Mac's time-tested dysfunction makes beautiful music at Tampa Bay Times Forum

Published June 10, 2013

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks walked onstage Friday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum hand in hand, like the oldest of friends in the world.

Then, for the next eight songs, the onetime lovers didn't interact. Not even a little. Not a nod. Not a glance. Certainly nothing as intimate as skin-to-skin contact.

Could there be a better encapsulation of the Fleetwood Mac experience?

Thirty-six years after Rumours, the definitive breakup album of the 20th century — yeah, I said it — the interpersonal conflict that drove Fleetwood Mac to its greatest creative heights remains an integral part of its mystique and eternal appeal. Fans with a ticket to a Fleetwood Mac show expect not only decades of indelible pop hits, they expect a taste of the drama that begat them.

The band knows this. Which is why Nicks and Buckingham waited until that ninth song — Sara, a slithering meditation on rancor and reconciliation among lovers — to look each other eye to eye, to edge in each other's direction, to share a microphone and, finally, to embrace.

Such is the choreography of a modern Fleetwood Mac show. Whatever dysfunction once festered between Nicks, Buckingham, gregarious drummer/mascot Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie — John's ex, retired singer-songwriter Christine, hasn't toured with the band in years — it hasn't stopped them from delivering the goods live.

Buckingham, for example, remains one of the most dynamic guitarists on the planet. He's played a couple of smaller solo shows in Tampa Bay since 2011, but on the big stage, his fingerpicking wizardry on the tomahawking Tusk, buzzsawing Big Love and incendiary I'm So Afraid is breathtaking to behold.

The free-spirited Nicks seems to get a little loopier with every tour — she laughed off some good-natured ribbing from Buckingham when they failed to connect on the opening notes of Landslide — but she remains an enchanting presence behind the mic, whether dusting blond strays from her eyes on Dreams or twirling in a silken tornado on Stand Back.

Fleetwood Mac's hit-packed sets don't change all that much, but they did throw in a couple of long-lost favorites, such as the bouncy folk ditty Without You, a Buckingham-Nicks demo lost for years before it surfaced online, and which appears on the band's new Extended Play EP.

And then there was Sisters of the Moon, a driving rocker from 1979's Tusk that Nicks said hasn't been performed regularly since 1981. Between Nicks' incantatory moan and Buckingham's furious power chords, it was a great example of the push-and-pull sexual tension that brought 14,071 fans to see them interact.

After Don't Stop and Silver Springs, Buckingham and Nicks closed with the acoustic, heartfelt duet Say Goodbye, and then a hug and a kiss at center stage.

How could they not? Dysfunction may be Fleetwood Mac's meal ticket. But it's one they can't cash in without love.