By Randy Lewis
10:30 AM EDT, July 3, 2013
For a notoriously perfectionist band like Fleetwood Mac, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that its live show leaves nothing to chance.
Fleetwood Mac's 2013 tour, which wraps up with a final run of shows this week in California, is built around a song list that's gone virtually unchanged since the concert run began in April.
"We're not one of those bands that throws the names of all their songs in a hat and pulls them out right before they go on stage," guitarist, songwriter and singer Lindsey Buckingham said last week from a tour stop in Charlotte, N.C. (Buckingham and the band play Staples Center Wednesday.) "Years ago I was hanging out with Peter Buck and went to several shows R.E.M. did and they literally did just that. That's one end of the spectrum.
"We've always had the sensibility that you work on the set and you structure it, much like a play, where once you've got the lines down and blocking right, you freeze it, and then you go out and do what you're doing night after night," he said. "You want to structure something that has form and that builds the right dynamic from start to finish."
This time out that set list runs from "Second Hand News," the "Rumours" opening track that serves the same function on this tour, through cornerstone hits including ""Rhiannon," "Gold Dust Woman" and "Go Your Own Way" that are interspersed with deeper tracks such as "Not That Funny," "Eyes of the World" and "I'm So Afraid."
When it comes to touring, the group stresses a sense of stability onstage that rarely existed for the members off stage. The group famously channeled feelings unleashed by the disintegrating relationship of Buckingham and Stevie Nicks as well as the failing marriage of John and Christine McVie into the songs that catapulted "Rumours" and the band into the commercial stratosphere. Ever since, interpersonal dynamics have been nearly as big a part of Fleetwood Mac's history as the music it made.
"You could look ... and think these people don't belong in the same band together," he said. "But it's the differences and disparity that creates a kind of synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that's what makes Fleetwood Mac what it is, and what makes the politics of the band what they are."
Certainly the remaining four core members are long past the big drama that fueled their breakthrough 1975 album "Fleetwood Mac," the first after Buckingham and Nicks joined the lineup with founding members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and longtime member Christine McVie.
But drama still surfaces — most recently over whether the group would have a full album out in conjunction with the latest tour. After bumping the band's tour from 2012 to 2013 so Nicks could continue to support her 2011 solo album "In Your Dreams," Buckingham, John McVie and Fleetwood worked up eight new tracks for what they hoped would be a new album, anticipating several more from Nicks when she returned to the fold.
But she brought just one, and an old one at that: "Without You," an unreleased song from the days she and Buckingham recorded and performed as Buckingham Nicks before joining Fleetwood Mac. (There's talk of a possible Buckingham Nicks tour and album reissue to note the 40th anniversary of that group's one and only release, but it's too early for any specifics, Buckingham said.)
"Without You" is one of two songs from "Extended Play," the new four-song EP released in April, that are incorporated into the live shows. The other is Buckingham's song "Sad Angel."
"All four are some of the best stuff we've done in a long time," he said. "I think they fit right in alongside the other songs. 'Sad Angel' we play very early in the set, and for the song of Stevie's, she tells a story — a very long story — as an intro about how it predates our involvement with Fleetwood Mac.... Referring back to the past, it becomes an embodiment of how long Stevie and I have known each other, so that has a certain context of its own that fits in very well."
For help on their return to the studio for the first time in a decade, Buckingham drafted producer Mitchell Froom, who made lauded albums with Crowded House, Los Lobos, the Latin Playboys, Richard Thompson and others in the 1980s and 1990s, and who collected the 1993 Grammy Award as producer of the year.
"What I wanted to do when we contemplated going in with John and Mick, knowing Stevie wouldn't be with us for a while, is that I didn't want to do this by myself. The last time we were in the studio for 'Say You Will,' which is coming up on 10 years now, I was the producer, and that put me in position of displeasing Stevie. I wanted a third party to be involved in the potential making of an album. I thought it would be a healthier environment for everybody."
All that psychological backdrop, he said, plays out in what goes out to the audience from the stage.
"We take these three-year breaks, we come back together and everybody's individual journeys have somehow shifted since last time we did it. If you go back two tours to 2003, we were coming off the last studio album, which I produced, and there was a certain amount of tension between Stevie and me, things she was not happy about. That translated into something tangible onstage — not necessarily something positive but something you could see and respond to.
"If you go to 2009, that had neutralized, and it was a little more generic that time," he said. "This time, it has swung the other way, and now it's a little bit of a love fest up there, and that's an acknowledgment of how things have evolved emotionally and musically."
Things are going smoothly enough that the band members are kicking around the prospect of more shows in 2014, skipping the usual three-year break rule.
"We've done the best business we've done since early-'80s," Buckingham said. "I have to assume there's a cyclical thing going where maybe another generation of appreciators have kicked in. The audiences are skewing younger. I can turn on Alt Nation on [SiriusXM] satellite radio and hear what I perceive as musical references to Fleetwood Mac now, where maybe three or four years ago that didn't seem to be the case.
"A lot of things seem to be aligning right now," he said. "We're just assessing what we have to offer."
Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Cost: $49.50 to $149.50
Information: http://www.ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000
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