By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Lindsey Buckingham is attempting to explain why his on-again, off-again megastar band, Fleetwood Mac, is on the road again without an album to support. Nothing to sell. Just the classic band (himself, Stevie Nicks, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood — still no Christine McVie), together again, playing the hits. He provides lots of deeply considered reasons, yadda yadda — but then he says something extraordinary.
"Maybe someone came to the conclusion that it might not be a bad time to go out and do some dates to use as hang time, as a proving ground," he says. "It's an inverted model, for sure, but there's something to it."
Proving ground? What could Fleetwood Mac — author of one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, 1977's "Rumours" — possibly have to prove at this point?
Buckingham chuckles. He's used to people straining to square his massive insecurities with his equally massive successes.
"In a general sense, every time you get together to do something new, you have to start thinking after all these years there are still things for us to work out emotionally, historically. We are a band of couples who broke up and got through it living in various states of denial and never getting closure — at least from my perspective — and it leaves a lot of stuff hanging out there.
"I took off in '87 to regain my sanity, and the band died a slow death without me. That didn't make me feel too bad," he snickers. "Without sounding too vindictive, it was nice to know they needed me. ... But we're still a work in progress in terms of those interactions. There are still things that need to be worked through."
Kind of amazing, isn't it? More than 30 years after Buckingham and Nicks split up at the dawn of the band's success, the "issues" remain that palpable between them. He still considers the band a "band of couples who broke up." And that was always part of the appeal — the telenovela-like drama and tension between two of the fiercest artistic personalities in Southern California.
Buckingham, at least, still hopes to harness that tension for more musical magic. He and the other members seem to be viewing this tour as a casual way for the quartet to settle a bit, to get back into some kind of rhythm that would produce a new record.
It's the elephant in the room that each member treads carefully around.
"There have been discussions, for sure, that we would love to make some more music," said founding drummer Mick Fleetwood, during an earlier teleconference with the band. "I think it's really down to the whole sort of biorhythms of how everyone is feeling and what's appropriate."
They're still so careful when speaking of each other, except Nicks, who remarked — with discernable astonishment — how well they were all getting on so far and added, "Lindsey has been in incredibly good humor since we started rehearsal. When Lindsey is in a good humor, everybody is in a good humor."
They still look to him, take their cues from him, and he remains the band's creative linchpin. The last few Mac albums he was on — you know, the successful ones — each began as Buckingham solo projects that the record label and the band begged to turn into band efforts. "Tango in the Night" sounds like his crystalline solo work with a few warmer Nicks and McVie songs added. Buckingham had asked Fleetwood and bassist John McVie to back him on another solo album that, with the addition of four Nicks songs, became Fleetwood Mac's 2003 comeback CD, "Say You Will."
But he'd like that pattern to change.
After "Say You Will," Buckingham told the band to leave him alone for three years, during which he exorcised two back-to-back solo discs: the quieter, almost indie-rock outing "Under the Skin" in 2006, and last year's slightly harder rocking "Gift of Screws." As a result, Buckingham says he feels refreshed and at the height of his creative powers.
"Having accomplished what I wanted to do with both solo albums, I'm really in the best place I've been artistically," he says. "I tapped into things I wanted to get to for a long time. And I have a lot of new material — I could drop another solo album at any time — but no one's talking yet about a new Mac album, at least for a while. Still, I'm pointedly not fleshing out my new stuff, so that I might be able to show it to the band and let it take on a life in the context of that.
"The way we used to do it, we'd each have rough ideas and would get together and the songs would get formulized and brought into some sort of life for the first time through a set of Fleetwood Mac eyes. More often than not, over the last few experiences it's been my solo material that had to be slightly altered to make it feel more Fleetwood Mac-like. So I'd really welcome the chance to come to these people with things a little less fleshed out, something that might be born as Fleetwood Mac rather than being just ... painted like it."
So he speaks of this tour as a "way to create a level of ferment" among the band again, and adds uncharacteristic optimism of "bringing things to light in a more organic way by being together without a real reason."
The question is: Do you want to pay $50 to $150 for a ticket to watch four grizzled but talented music makers "hang" and "ferment"? Buckingham says the band is not using the tour as an expensive woodshed.
"We've very pointedly stuck to catalog for this tour," he says, adding, "There is still validity in looking at this body of work, the irony being that this is what most people want to hear from us, anyway. I figure, let's make our mantra just hanging and working on the rough edges in terms of personal interactions with band members. That in itself will be part of the preparation for making an album, whenever that does happen."
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
Phone: (312) 559-1212
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.