Deep into a riveting solo performance last night at the Opera House, Lindsey Buckingham found himself in the thick of I’m So Afraid, a tune that has been a staple of his repertoire since he uncorked it on his first album with Fleetwood Mac some 37 years ago.
Last night, drum loops set the rhythm, an elegantly frenzied guitar solo fueled the rock ‘n’ roll charge and his voice – that wild, hopped up roar that still sounds downright primal for a performer so versed in the ways of vintage pop – merged into a mighty one-man-band display.
“I’ll never change,” Buckingham sang as the song crested with an almost seething intensity. “I never will.”
That was a telling line. While Buckingham offered an especially revealing comment on the subject of change earlier in the evening, there was a remarkable sense of pop invention throughout this show. Though billed as a solo acoustic performance, this was by no means some folky variation on the often masterful pop he has created in and out of Fleetwood Mac over the decades. This was, in every way, a rock ‘n’ roll show.
While no band supported him, Buckingham still played the game he knew best and hammered out hits and overlooked solo gems in an all-too-brief 75 minute set that was played fast, loud and with an almost caffeinated sense of urgency.
The mood was set with the opening Cast Away Dreams, one of three tunes performed from 2006’s sublime (and, coincidentally, predominantly acoustic) Under the Skin album. Playing a neo-Spanish melody that was amped up to the heavens, Buckingham took plenty of time in letting his vocal charge meet the intensity of his musicianship. By Bleed to Love Her (from the 2003 Fleetwood Mac comeback album Say You Will) and the curious rock star reflection Not Too Late (another Under the Skin treat), his singing became a wail full of still-youthful bravado.
There were a few surprises during this solo rock parade, as well. The biggest was the instrumental Stephanie, a work that reached back to the pre-Fleetwood Mac album Buckingham Nicks and became the purest vehicle for Buckingham’s crisp guitar tone. From another stylistic universe altogether came Go Insane, which was transformed from its 1984 beginnings as a studio snapshot of fractured Brian Wilson psychedelia into a slow, ghostly confessional.
But the topper had to be Big Love, the 1987 Fleetwood Mac hit that Buckingham admitted had matured from “a contemplation on alienation” into “a meditation on the power and importance of change.” But time hasn’t soothed the song’s overall terseness. Last night, as he has for the past 15 years, Buckingham played the tune at breakneck speed with brittle guitar runs and a vocal lead that built to a punctuated howl.
As was the case with nearly the entire show, Big Love favored a restless, intuitive pop spark over pure nostalgia. Sure, those who wanted the vintage hits got more straightforward readings of Never Going Back Again and Go Your Own Way. But the moments where Buckingham turned the past on its ear to face the same vigor and intent of his current material clearly drove the concert. Turns out the man knows how to change just fine.