Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Plymouth, Land of the Giants

Listening to: this (link). One of the foundation albums in the evolution of my musical tastes.

If this billboard is to be believed, in New Plymouth there be giant alluring maidens stepping from the sea.
In a clumsy segue, I was in New Plymouth over the weekend to see giants of another kind, Fleetwood Mac. This may or may not be their chartered jet:
Its quite likely that it is. The airport wasn't exactly littered with rock legend transportation.
I went up with Dad, who organised the whole thing once he heard they were coming to town (ish its a five hour drive from home), and Fi, Charlotte and Kirsten (referred to throughout as 'The Girls') who weren't attending the concert, but just came along for the roadie. Rich came along independently with his own harem of fetching maidens.
Its hard to write about Fleetwood Mac without resorting to cliche. On the face of it they write carefully crafted and musically brilliant inoffensive MOR music for a more conservative audience than your average rock listener. Thats a misleading visage though, since behind the radio friendly hits there is a dark and intense undercurrent of history and conflict, and almost apocalyptic excess. It's impressive that the band members are even still alive in 2009, let alone touring.
They are hated by some for that definitive MOR-ness for sure, and there is always that section of 'real' Fleetwood Mac fans who prefer the earlier 1960's incarnation of the band, and regard the most well known and successful line up with practiced disdain. After being uncool for a while, they have gone back to being cool now, or have become so uncool that they are cool. Whatever.
The greatest hits compilation I referred to at the top of the post was released way back in 1988. Dad bought it back then (on cassette), and would play it on our long car trips to airshows around the country. It took me a while to come around to it, but eventually I came to like it, to the point now where I seldom go on a roadie without it. Every track on it has an association with some piece of state highway somewhere in the country, at various times and occasions going back more than twenty years now. Its a very evocative and nostalgic album for me to listen to.
Not only that, I owe it (and Dad by proxy) a huge debt, since it taught me how to really listen to music and hear how all of a bands components meld to form a whole. Many times Dad would say "listen to what they are doing there", and point out a particularly effective melody or harmony, and how it worked. It taught me how to listen to each musician, and pick out a particularly good or subtle undercurrent behind or hidden in the melody. To this day I still often sing along to bass lines or backing vocals rather than leads.
So when the first Fleetwood Mac concerts in New Zealand for nearly thirty years (they were last here in 1980, or to put it another way, when I was 3), I had to go, not only because I would kick myself for missing to opportunity to see legends, but also to acknowledge the lessons from twenty years ago. And also to see what they were like after all this time, and all the legends (I would have loved to have seen them in their relative heyday in the late seventies and eighties). And its nice when Dad and my musical tastes align, which isn't that often when it comes to concerts.
And it was great. It rained, which made it much more atmospheric (I had an oilskin so stayed dry). The merchandising stand was a complete debacle of poor planning, and there were too many smokers standing next to me, but meh, that goes with the territory.
With no album to promote, the tour was free to play all the classics and then some. The voices certainly aren't as clean as they were recorded thirty years ago, and they definitely miss Christine McVie (who retired about a decade ago) in the harmonies. But again thats a small gripe. It was just cool to see all these classic songs played live by the original artist. As I've gotten older I've started to prefer some of the darker more introspective singles like 'The Chain' and 'Gold Dust Woman' to the more accessible stuff (I tend to skip 'Don't Stop' these days), and it was a treat to see them played, and played with what looked to be still genuine intensity and passion.
Also interesting was seeing the band interact with each other, and how they relate now to some of the very personal natures and themes of songs (the bands hits were often about each other, most prominently for example 'Go your own way', which was written by the lead guitarist for the lead singer about their disintegrating relationship)that they have been performing now for decades. I think 'Dreams' is probably my favourite song of theirs, and when they played it I wondered just how many times Stevie Nicks has sung it in the three decades since it was written. It must be hundreds if not thousands.
The set lasted over two hours, with two encores adding another half hour or so to the experience. It was nice to see proof of just why they are legends, and well worth the trip. Seeing bands I like live is important to me, and its cool I can now add Fleetwood Mac to that list after all this time.
Rich was standing next to me the whole time and his take on the gig is here (link)
An actual professional music writer style review is here (link), complete with a picture of Stevie Nicks quite disturbingly resembling Courtney Love, and Stevie Nicks' thoughts on the New Zealand leg of the tour are here (link).

No comments: