When Fleetwood Mac performed at the Prudential Center in Newark, March 13, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for a man who wasn’t there.
No, not Lindsey Buckingham, whose absence wasn’t mentioned (though the band performed many songs he wrote, or played on, with singer-guitarist Neil Finn and guitarist Mike Campbell in his place). I’m talking about the late Tom Petty, Campbell’s longtime Heartbreakers boss.
The show’s first encore was Petty’s 1989 hit “Free Fallin’,” and as Nicks sang it, with backing by Campbell and others, photos of Petty — on his own, or with Nicks and/Campbell, or the full Heartbreakers band — were shown on the screen behind them. Petty and Nicks, of course, were longtime friends, as well as duet partners (most famously on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”). Watching Campbell onstage with her throughout the evening, it was impossible not to think about Petty, who died in 2017; using the photos like this was a smart way to acknowledge him.
Elsewhere in the show, the band resurrected two songs from its pre-Buckingham, pre-Nicks era: “Black Magic Woman” (famously covered by Santana) and “Oh Well,” both written by original Fleetwood Mac frontman Peter Green. Nicks sang the former, changing “Got a black magic woman” to “I’m a black magic woman”; Campbell sang the latter. Elsewhere, Finn usually sang Buckingham’s parts, while Campbell took his guitar solos.
Finn also sang his own Crowded House hit, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” as a duet with Nicks; Mick Fleetwood introduced the number by talking about the first time he heard it, and Nicks praised it, afterwards, as a “once-in-a-lifetime” song. After “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Nicks sang the exquisite “Landslide” with just Finn on acoustic guitar and an electric guitar solo by Neale Heywood.
Heywood was one of five musicians joining Nicks, Fleetwood, Campbell, Finn, John McVie and Christine McVie. The other four were keyboardist Ricky Peterson, percussionist Taku Hirano and vocalists Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin. One of the amazing things about the show was that even with 11 musicians onstage at times, the sound never got muddy or murky. Each song was like an ingeniously constructed puzzle. No one ever steps on anyone else’s toes — musically, at least (offstage is another matter) — in this band.
It’s no accident that Campbell and Finn were the musicians chosen to replace Buckingham. They’re both economical, tasteful, self-effacing players; they fit into Fleetwood Mac very smoothly.
Still, the absence of Buckingham helped accentuate the difference between the melodramatic, mysterious Nicks and the warm, mellow Christine McVie. Their approaches are so different, it really did seem like two different groups, depending on who was singing lead.
One common thread throughout the two-hour, 10-minute show, though, was the brilliance of Fleetwood’s drumming. No one in rock does a better job at both keeping a steady beat and adding enough unexpected accents to make every song sound fresh. And his extended solo, in the middle of “World Turning,” supplied a moment of explosive release in a show that didn’t really offer much of that.
Finn had his best vocal moment of the night on “Monday Morning,” adding even more edge than the original had, and Nicks was stunningly intense on “Gold Dust Woman.” The evening’s final setlist surprise was its last song, “All Over Again,” a ballad from the little heard Time album (which came out in 1995, when both Nicks and Buckingham were not in the group).
It was performed here as an intimate duet between Christine McVie and Nicks; they stood together at the front of the stage as they sang. It was a nice moment, though no substitute for numbers at past shows when Nicks and Buckingham would look at each other as they performed songs they had written about their complicated relationship (they were a romantic couple from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s). Nicks and Finn did look at each other, during songs like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way,” but it was hardly the same.
Not that that should surprise anyone: There’s still enough talent in this band to make anything it does great. But Buckingham has played a huge part in Fleetwood Mac’s history, and helped bring the band to its pinnacle in the ’70s. There’s no way his absence wouldn’t hurt.
Upcoming Fleetwood Mac tour stops include Madison Square Garden in New York, March 18; and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, March 22 and April 5. Other dates are scheduled in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand through Sept. 21; visit fleetwoodmac.com.
Here is the show’s setlist and, below it, some videos from the show:
“Second Hand News”
“Say You Love Me”
“Black Magic Woman”
“World Turning” (including drum solo)
“Don’t Dream It’s Over”
“You Make Loving Fun”
“Gold Dust Woman”
“Go Your Own Way”
“Free Fallin’ ”
“All Over Again”