By ROGER CATLIN
"This is the first time we've been on stage together since '83," Stevie Nicks told a cheering Hartford crowd during the inaugural date in Fleetwood Mac's reunion tour Wednesday night at the Meadows Music Theatre.
Then the singer, 49, in her diaphanous veils, launched into a hushed version of "Landslide," her 20-year-old song that has recently been re-recordced by such modern rock idols as Smashing Pumpkins. Its verses seem to underscore the reunion of the most popular lineup of the 30-year-old band: "Times make you bolder, children get older, I'm getting older too."
On a pleasant evening that brought a huge, traffic-tying crowd to the Hartford amphitheater in the middle of the week, a large walk-up crowd helped boost attendance past 20,000, making it the third-biggest show of the Meadows season, behind sellouts by the Dave Matthews Band and Jimmy Buffett.
"This is something we were not originally planning to do," Lindsey Buckingham, 49, told the crowd of the reunion. It was his leaving the band 10 years ago that was the first crack in the platinum lineup that included Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, which produced one of the best-selling rock albums in history, "Rumours" in 1977. The two women stayed on until 1990; leaving John McVie and Fleetwood to try the least successful lineup of the band, which never recorded, but did play the Meadows two years ago on a nostalgia bill between Styx and Pat Benatar.
"This was a chance thing, an organic thing," Buckingham said of the reunion. Even so, it followed the blueprint of the successful 1994 Eagles reunion -- with a televised concert, released as No. 1 album, followed by a sellout tour. Like that tour, the original quintet is matched by the number of augmenting musicians and backup singers. But unlike the Eagles, all the important vocals and instrumentation come from the group.
Months of rehearsals, including the last two days in Hartford, have paid off. From the opening thump of "The Chain" to the panorama of hits, to the handful of new offerings, the band sounded splendid and seemed genuinely touched by the reception.
It was Buckingham's departure that led to the fissure of the group once, so in many ways it was his party Wednesday. Certainly, he had one of the early highlights, with a dazzling guitar solo on "I'm So Afraid" that brought thunderous acclaim. Though his vocal delivery may rely too much on barks and primal screeches, it was up to him to deliver the high notes in "Dreams" and choruses in "Gypsy."
Nicks, whose voice is in gorgeous shape, has tailored her songs to her more mature sound, while at the same time injecting more meaning into songs such as "Silver Springs" and "Gold Dust Woman." She even did her solo hit, "Stand Back."
She's lost a lot of weight since the last time she played Hartford, but it was hard to tell under the layers of fabric and veils upon veils. Potential twirls were diminished for her insistence on those platform Minnie Mouse shoes she still wears. But she's still the star of the group, the one the audience adores most.
Christine McVie, at 54, seemed the consummate professional, bringing her familiar tones to the Mac's best pop tunes and ballads, such as "Songbird," which was saved for the encore.
The rhythm section of John McVie, 51, and Fleetwood, 50, looked like randy pirates ably steering the ship into its fourth decade.
The 26-song, two-hour performance was rich in "Rumours" era material, but it had room for surprise, from an acoustic, cathartic, version of Buckingham's "Big Love" to the show-ending cover of an obscure Beach Boys song, "The Farmer's Daughter." Caution and holding back seemed the essence of the show, but the reward came in general technical excellence.
Of the new songs, Buckingham's "My Little Demon," was a welcome rocker; Nicks' "Sweet Girl" provided some timely introspection. Just about the only thing that really didn't work was "Tusk," toothless with its big brass part subbed by an accordion.
Most of the new arrangements introduced for the widely viewed MTV concert special "The Dance," held up live, with a banjo-picking version of "Go Your Own Way" and a nice piano intro to "Rhiannon." But the concert demonstrated how much better things are live than on TV.
The set list for Fleetwood Mac Wednesday was: "The Chain," "Dreams," "Everywhere," "Gold Dust Woman," "I'm So Afraid," "Temporary One," "Bleed to Love Her," "Gypsy," "Big Love," "Go Insane," "Landslide," "Say You Love Me," "Sweet Girl," "You Make Loving Fun," "My Little Demon," "Stand Back," "Oh Daddy," 'Not That Funny," "Rhiannon," "Eyes of the World" "Silver Springs," "Tusk," "Go Your Own Way" (encore) "Don't Stop" (encore) "Songbird" and "The Farmer's Daughter."
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