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The first words spoken by Stevie Nicks to the capacity crowd at McNichols Arena on October 29 for the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour were, "Welcome to our party." But for just an instant, I thought she said, "Welcome to our payday."

It was an easy mistake to make, given how much mammon had to do with bringing together Nicks and bandmates Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood for a made-for-MTV album (The Dance, a disposable piece of product) and their first tour in a decade. But while watching the slick, professional display staged by the five, I got the sense that virulent greed of the Eagles variety was not as important a factor in the project as was the simple, rather poignant hunger for attention. Which none of the musicians have been receiving of late.

Don't forget, the Buckingham-Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac was a behemoth of Seventies music--one that consistently packed concert halls and moved an astounding number of LPs (1977's Rumors is still among the top-selling albums of all time). But as time wore on, Buckingham, the only true musical wizard in the combo, realized that it was more creatively fulfilling to make music on his own than to prop up the often middling compositions of Nicks and Christine McVie. He left the fold after 1987's Tango in the Night, and when he spoke to Westword in the wake of Out of the Cradle, a criminally overlooked 1992 solo offering ("Growing Up in Public," April 7, 1993), he was adamant about maintaining his independence. He had played alongside his former cohorts at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, who had used the Mac's "Don't Stop" as a campaign theme song, but noted, "I didn't feel overly connected to any of it, really. It was short and sweet. There were a lot of questions about whether this suggested a long-term reunion, and those were quickly put to rest by me. And that was it."

In a sense, then, Buckingham's decision to kiss and make up with Nicks and company represents a loss of resolve. But his actions are quite understandable, especially if you take his personality into account. Although he is interested in pushing pop into fresh, often strange territory, he's also a commercial animal who thrives on mass recognition. The mediocre chart run of Cradle was extremely disappointing to him ("I'd be lying to you if I said I would not have liked to have heard this album on the radio," he told me); hence, it's reasonable to assume that the five years of relative obscurity that followed must have been sheer torture. It makes perfect sense, then, that he would say yes to trading a measure of his autonomy for the enormous outpouring of love and lucre that the resurrection of Fleetwood Mac has unleashed. If you had been in the same position, you probably would have done the same thing.

Nevertheless, one couldn't help but feel a bit sad watching Buckingham subordinate himself to his less talented colleagues during the group's turn at McNichols. Not that the other players failed to treat him with total respect. On the contrary, all of them realize that his producing, arranging and instrumental skills were at least partially responsible for them becoming stars in the first place--and they know how bad life in the band had been without him. (Christine McVie and Nicks briefly left the outfit in 1990 in the face of withering reviews and a severe drop in drawing power that also doomed their attempts to forge post-Mac careers. Moreover, versions of the band featuring journeymen like Billy Burnette, Rick Vito, Bekka Bramlett and Dave Mason became industry laughingstocks.) So they deferred to him frequently, allowing him to feature his more challenging work on numerous occasions. But the gentlemanly Buckingham returned the favor just as often, withdrawing into the role of invisible sideman when it came time for Christine or Stevie to take the lead. The arrangements, meanwhile, were generally as safe as safe could be, with two supplementary guitarists, two back-up vocalists and an extra percussionist cushioning the sound and slowing the tempos to the speed of nostalgia. Whenever Buckingham slid into the shadows, somnambulance stepped in front of the footlights.

Christine McVie has a voice that's generally described as "smoky," but on this night, it seemed more like sickly sweet incense left burning too long in an unventilated room; her rendition of "Everywhere," in particular, left me struggling to remain conscious. As for Nicks, she is not as Rubenesque as she has been in recent years, when the only press she got was in the context of tabloid headlines like "Witchy Rocker Eats Canned Ham Like Corn on the Cob." But given her advancing age--which she underlined for the sake of cheap applause with her delivery of the line "I'm getting older, too" in "Landslide"--her continuing fondness for flowing clothing and wraps that resemble brocaded tablecloths seemed even riskier than it had in years past. As she executed her trademark twirls, she suggested a delusional, atrophying starlet from Day of the Locusts. The effect was accentuated by her voice, which has grown deeper and gruffer since her glory days. The change was painfully obvious during "Stand Back," a lame solo ditty during which she sounded like Bea Arthur in an especially frenzied episode of The Golden Girls.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts