One of my earliest musical memories that involved seeking out music on my own involves Lindsey Buckingham. At the age of seven I inherited a clunky little clock radio from my parents, the kind that had the little numbered plastic panels that flipped over each minute to show the correct time. It was high-tech back in the mid-'70s, and when I went to bed each night I turned it on with the volume very low and listened to San Diego radio station KGB-FM (looking back on it now, probably the coolest call letters you could have in the middle of the Cold War).
It was while listening to that radio that I started breaking away from the listening habits instilled in me by my parents; he of the Kingston Trio and Simon & Garfunkel albums, and she of the Beatles, country music, and show tunes. I discovered the good stuff (The Who, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton) and the questionable (a strange fascination with the Silver Convention song "Fly Robin Fly"). And one sound I continually gravitated toward though back in 1977 was that of Fleetwood Mac.
At seven years old I was too young to know the name Fleetwood Mac. The band had recently switched from being a British blues powerhouse to adopting a more pop-oriented California rock sound, thanks to the addition of Americans Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Fleetwood Mac released its masterpiece, "Rumours," that year, and the band's music was everywhere. But again, since I was in first grade and as yet innocent to the intoxicating and addictive business of rock and roll (oh, I'd fall under its spell soon enough), I only knew what I was hearing on my trusty clock radio. Looking back now, although I really didn't know, or really care about the song titles, I was waiting for songs like "Dreams," "Don't Stop," and "Go Your Own Way" to come on. The vocals of Nicks and Buckingham mesmerized me, even though I had no idea who they were. All I knew was that those voices, coupled with Mick Fleetwood's trademark thump-ah-thump drum sound and Buckingham's screaming guitar gave me goosebumps.
Once I started actually paying attention to names—titles and songs—I became a huge Fleetwood Mac fan. I've never been able to see the band live though, which is why I was really looking forward to seeing Buckingham when he performed at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center last Saturday night. There was no opening act, and surprisingly there were only about 700 people there for the show. Buckingham walked onstage with an acoustic guitar just after 9 p.m., greeted the audience, and kicked into "Castaway Dreams."
For a solo act, Buckingham sure came prepared. An impressive array of amplifiers and equipment sat behind him on the stage, and an equally amazing collection of guitars were tucked away just offstage. After a lesser-known Fleetwood Mac tune, "Bleed to Love Her," and another song, "It's Not Too Late," Buckingham's roadie brought out his trademark Model One electric guitar. Just the sight of the instrument inspired hoots of joys from the audience. Buckingham launched into another Mac song, "Come," and quickly demonstrated why he's considered to be one of the best guitarists on the planet. The song's solo was an angry, screaming, blisteringly beautiful eruption that had the crowd on its feet for a standing ovation before the song was over.
Further highlights throughout Buckingham's all too brief set included a slowed-down, folky version of his solo hit "Go Insane," and a gorgeous take on a pair of Mac songs, "Never Going Back Again," and "Big Love." "Never Going Back Again" found the artist beautifully recreating his intricate guitar chords first heard on "Rumours." Prior to performing "Big Love," a hit from Mac's 1987 album "Tango in the Night," Buckingham told the audience that the song's lyrics are often misinterpreted. He went on to explain that at the time he wrote the song he was weary of romance, and so he was in effect "looking out for love," as in trying to avoid it. The acoustic performance, during which Buckingham employed loop pedals to layer his guitar riffs, was raw and intense.
The electric guitar came back out for a couple more Mac songs, including "I'm So Afraid" and "Go Your Own Way." On both songs Buckingham went a little crazy, literally punching and beating the instrument like it owed him money. It was spectacular to watch. For the encore Buckingham returned to the stage with an acoustic guitar to perform "Trouble" and the title track to his latest solo album "Seeds We Sow."
Up until that point I'd been pretty proud of the audience for keeping quiet while Buckingham performed. It was the total opposite of the rudeness I experienced a couple of weeks ago at the Jackson Browne concert. But inevitably there had to be one guy in the crowd who had to ruin the streak. As Buckingham started telling a story prior to "Trouble," an audience member a few rows back from the front stood up and started gushing to the artist about how much he loved him. "I love that shit," exclaimed the fan, causing Buckingham to raise his eyebrows in a way that said "Really?" After a moment the musician smiled and replied, "Well put, sir! So do I!" As Buckingham announced that Fleetwood Mac would indeed be touring next year, another audience member shouted out that he liked Buckingham's solo band. Buckingham smiled, shook his head, and said, "You guys are special." That got a huge laugh from the crowd. A moment after he said it, Buckingham seemed to realize the double meaning of the statement and attempted to explain that the statement was sincere.
It was great to finally see someone who had been pretty instrumental in my musical upbringing. Even at 62 years of age, and with really nothing left to prove, Buckingham remains a passionate and energetic performer. He's also incredibly gracious, stopping after each song to take a bow and drink in the crowd's applause in a way that lets one know he truly appreciates it. When Fleetwood Mac tours next year, I'll drive any distance to see them live. For now though, Saturday night's show was a great experience.