06 April 2007

Lindsey Buckingham At The Danforth Music Hall

It took Lindsey Buckingham 14 years to release his latest album "Under The Skin", and it was that long ago when he last took to the Toronto stage as a solo performer to promote "From The Cradle"(The Phoenix Concert Centre, July 1993). Thankfully, fans were able to catch him when he reunited with Fleetwood Mac in 2004 to promote "Say You Will", whom he'd left abruptly in 1986 when they reunited for their "Tango In The Night" album (the band continued with Billy Burnett and Rick Vito subbing for Buckingham). Unfortunately, that last tour was hardly a return to vintage form, as Christine McVie retired from the group shortly before recording the album.

Buckingham (joined later by his touring band) treated fans to an intimate and comprehensive concert at the Danforth's Music Hall theatre last night, to which spirited (and vocal) devotees of varied age brackets were treated to nearly two hours of solo hits ("Trouble"), Fleetwood Mac classics ("Go Your Own Way", "Tusk", "Second Hand News", "Never Going Back Again") and a few surprises, like an unexpected barn-storm through "Holiday Road"--his jaunty theme for "National Lampoon's Vacation"--as the first encore.

Despite his success with Fleetwood Mac (1977's "Rumours" was the number one top-selling album of all time until "Thriller") Buckingham's been a tough sell outside of his enduring supergroup. Perhaps it's that his musical persona is a tough one to define--his albums are tuneful but experimental (and admittedly, prone to the odd maddening indulgence), autobiographical but enigmatic and unusually structured, with any "hit" likely accidental rather than calculated. For someone who otherwise is an accomplished singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and engineer and, on occassion, a veritable hit machine, Buckingham wears his eccentricity like a badge of pride--by his own admission during the set, much of his songwriting is "strange". He's secured his place as a 70s rock icon and "boomer" figurehead despite himself.

That was all perfectly fine for the rambunctious audience crowd, who shouted out titles ("we'll take requests later", Buckingham quipped) and everything short of marriage proposals. Now that Buckingham is--amazingly--57, he could probably play "Big Love," "Never Going Back Again" , "Go Your Own Way" in his sleep, but he approached each number as a showpiece for his distinctive, complex guitar arrangements and his meticulous finger-work and instinctive improvisation was something to behold, but fueled with passion and sincerity so that it didn't come off as showy grandstanding of technique-for-its- own-sake.

Without Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie on harmonies, Buckingham had to rely on some pre-recorded overdubs and the vocals of band members Brett Tuggle (bass/keyboards) and Neil Haywood (guitar) to simulate the Byrds-and-Brian Wilson influenced sonic layers of the recordings. Songs like "Big Love", "Go Insane", and "Tusk" were stripped of the 80s electronic excesses that have dated the album versions and sounded fresher--and better--than ever. For me, the highlight number was an extended interpretation of 1975's "World Turning", from Buckingham's first album as a member of Fleetwood Mac, that highlighted the percussive acrobatics of tour drummer Walfredo Reyes, who pulled off that rarest of things in making all of us briefly forget all about Mick Fleetwood.

Buckingham closed the evening promising the audience that he'd be back sooner next time, and that a new solo album would be due "sometime next year" (yeah, right). I read today that he's also planning to record and tour again with Fleetwood Mac, and that Christine McVie would be returning. Here's looking forward to yet another chapter in rock's longest-running soap opera, which may have to tide Buckingham's fans over for another 14 years...