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REVIEW: FLEETWOOD MAC- ROD LAVER ARENA, MELBOURNE

Fleetwood Mac – Rod Laver Arena , Melbourne.
Monday September 2, 2019
Review: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne

In an era full of so much forgettable, disposable pop music where today’s chart topper is just as sure to be tomorrow’s compost, it’s comforting to know that there’s always Fleetwood Mac. Born in the late sixties, the band has often gone through personnel changes from the Peter Green blues days, to the game-changing Buckingham Nicks inclusion, to the in and outs of McVies and a cavalcade of guitarists such as Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Bob Welch, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. However, when it was announced last year that Lindsey Buckingham had been sacked and replaced by Crowded House’s Neil Finn and The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, you’d be forgiven for checking to see if the date was April 1st. It was with much anticipation that Fleetwood Mac fans awaited first news of how this strategy would play out live on stage. Initial reviews of the band’s American tour were favourable but obviously Australian fans were keen to judge for themselves and finally our leg of the world tour had arrived … tonight it was hello Melbourne!

Fans outside nervously checked their watches and the black clouds above as they endured the long wait to get into the venue due to the added security and unique Rod Laver Arena queuing system (i.e. none). The first night crowd of a four date residency is always going to be full of the band’s biggest fans and the excitement in the air was tangible. Finally around 8.20pm, Fleetwood Mac Version 2019 hit the stage and launched into The Chain from 1977’s mega-selling Rumours album. Back in the day, the song was used as a show stopping encore but with an unlimited supply of hits in the catalogue and a point to prove, they came out punching hard. The signature interconnecting guitar parts between Finn, Campbell and additional guitarist Neale Heywood were working a treat and vocally they were hitting all the right notes as well. Little Lies then drew our focus to Christine McVie and the realisation that there is a ridiculous amount of talent in this band. Dreams followed with the crowd joining Stevie Nicks in singing the iconic lyrics, ‘Thunder only happens when it’s raining’. Whether you’d never learned the words intentionally, we all know them via osmosis anyway, these songs are part of our DNA.

Black Magic Woman, a song made famous by Santana, was a staple of the original Fleetwood Mac and this was the first of three nods to the Peter Green-era catalogue for the night. This band’s rendition was powerful. For Neil Finn, who spent a significant part of his musical life in Melbourne, this evening was like bringing the band home to meet the family. Taking front of stage to acknowledge the part this city has played in his career, they launched into a punchy version of the Split Enz tune I Got You and the crowd quite naturally went nuts for it. It would be a tough call to top that one but Rhiannon was always going to do the trick, named in a Rolling Stone magazine list as one of the greatest songs of all time.

The percussive nature of World Turning gave band founding member Mick Fleetwood licence to indulge in an extended drum solo showcasing his exuberant eccentricity and it was also a chance to feature master percussionist Taku Hirano. Tonight there would be no filler, Fleetwood Mac are in the business of hits and they continued to flow. Stevie Nicks and Gypsy from 1982’s Mirage album had the audience singing and swaying again … not that they’d ever stopped.

Neil Finn then plucked out the obscure but beautiful Peter Green tune Man of the World before Mike Campbell took the spotlight to firstly salute Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as the world’s longest standing rhythm section and secondly, to lead the band in the avalanche of guitar riffs that define Green’s classic tune Oh Well.

The impossibly tall frame of Mick Fleetwood left his drum kit fortress again to introduce a song which ‘touched his heart’ from the moment he first heard it. In a show full of highlights, Neil Finn performing Don’t Dream It’s Over, a song written in Melbourne, sung to and sung by a Melbourne audience, was indeed a special moment. Session stalwart Ricky Peterson added a sublime touch on keys. Stevie Nicks took the time to remind Neil that it’s a ‘once in a lifetime’ song and that he should never forget it. Finn responded by suggesting that Nicks herself had written some significant tunes and one of her finest, Landslide followed, with the Melbourne crowd once again singing along to every word.

There’s a touch of the Rolling Stones Rock ’n’ Roll Circus or even Joe Cocker and Leon Russell’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen about this band at the moment, so much rock history on stage and so much legendary music coming off it. Rather than any hint of a farewell, this mix has opened up a pandora’s box of new possibilities.

With our heartstrings well and truly tugged and so many classic Mac songs already in the can, it’s with a sense of wonder that an even higher level of nostalgia overload is achieved with You Make Loving Fun, Gold Dust Woman and Go Your Own Way. If you hadn’t already been struck in the feely bits, then Free Fallin’, the tribute to Tom Petty featuring footage of Tom and his guitarist Mike Campbell on screen certainly did it. The connection between Nicks and Petty and Campbell’s inclusion in this band suddenly made a lot of sense. Don’t Stop was a fitting end to the party and a comprehensive end to any speculation that his collection of seasoned pros couldn’t pull off a truly great rock show. Tonight was not only a celebration of one of the world’s finest ever rock bands but also a nod to an era of songwriting talent that we’ll probably never experience again.

Fleetwood Mac play Rod Laver Arena again on:

Wednesday September 4
Saturday September 7
Monday September 9