Buckingham live, alone and essential
It was supposed to be a week in music storyboarded around rock’s most sordid romance saga: solo tours by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were to cross wakes only 48 hours apart in an unlikely place. As Buckingham’s small machine rolled along with uncompromised efficiency, it was Nicks’ big machine that faltered — co-headliner Rod Stewart fell ill and their Greensboro show was canceled, a decision perhaps aided by slow ticket sales. That wasn’t an issue for Buckingham, who’s packed show on Friday at Bucked Up Super Saloon in Kernersville provided for all the intimacy of a coffee house open mic night.
The nature of those machines was one of Buckingham’s favorite topics of conversation on Friday. He noted how shows like this one — in a small town at a country bar unaccustomed to hosting performers of his caliber — were only made possible by the big machine that is Fleetwood Mac. Rather than an an oversized, idling tour bus, it was Buckingham’s silver Mercedes L Class that sat immediately outside the door from where he took the stage to the unconventional, yet stunning venue for his purposes. The club’s dancefloor was transformed into a makeshift theater with foldout chairs, but the ambiance created by the sparse lighting and hardwood construction possessed all the warmth of a more traditional venue.
Buckingham looked the part of a rock star as he entered alone, clad in a leather jacket and what could have been women’s jeans, his greying hair emphasizing his gunmetal look. His approach to his solo set is almost theatrical; he was flanked by a dozen guitars and a busy tech, the setlist taped to the floor, but he didn’t need it as requests for the little pop gem “Holiday Road” fell unacknowledged. His show hasn’t changed from city to city and neither has his stage banter as he engaged the same stories as previous nights in Carrboro and Wilmington. He reminisced about his initial invite to join Fleetwood Mac, only agreeing if Mick Fleetwood accepted his girlfriend into the band as well.
He spoke of focusing on only the essentials of songwriting during a breathy, finely wrought interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again.”
There’s a safe assumption that most of the room wasn’t fully briefed on his personal catalog, and the sounds of a solo Buckingham are hardly that of the numinous blues of the Fleetwood Mac. He sought out the boundaries of his guitar and his voice, from the gentle strumming and hushed tones of opener “Cast Away Dreams,” to the sheer violence with which he imbued the zenith of set closer “Go Your Own Way.” Ever the poptimist, Buckingham transformed his biggest solo hit “Go Insane” from a very dated bit of ‘80s ear candy into thoughtful, methodical folk-pop with a manic climax whose impact would have only been diminished by the biggest rooms.
As Buckingham dug deeper into both his personal repertoire and Fleetwood Mac obscurities, so too did he engage the cache of instruments accompanying him. His Gibson Chet Atkins Acoustic made an appearance for “Go Insane” and a meditative “Big Love,” while much of the show was an endorsement for his array of flat-bodied Turners. Not at all given to spontaneity, Buckingham’s guitar skills are nonetheless peerless within his sphere. He executed the unorthodox chord structure of “Shut Us Down” with impeccable fingerpicking, always preferring his natural tools over plastic or wood plectra.
The only unnatural incursions into his set came in the form of the occasional loops and a generic, but sympathetic backing beat to the 21-year old “Trouble,” possessed of the kind of sound that nourishes the Dan Bejars and Jonathan Wilsons of contemporary folk and pop. Unlike them, Buckingham is ultimately a part of a whole greater than himself, but sometimes, when there can be only one, he’s essential.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan