Fleetwood Mac is ready for something new.
Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers celebrated the 40th anniversary of their debut last year, their current tour, which kicked off last week in Pittsburgh, will be the first that won’t introduce any new material.
“We really don’t like the term ‘greatest hits’ tour,” says Stevie Nicks, calling from her home in Santa Monica, Calif. “The tour is called ‘Fleetwood Mac: Unleashed’ - like the dogs are out or because we’re back on the streets. This show will knock people’s socks off because it is all those (versions) people love and a bunch of new ones that they love and don’t have any idea that they’re going to get to hear. All we have to worry about creatively is our stage set and what’s going on behind us.
“We are back,” Nicks says. “And we are back in a big way.”
Of course, anything Fleetwood Mac does will be big. They’ve had nine platinum albums and eight Top 10 singles, and their album “Rumours” has sold more than 19 million copies in America alone, making it the ninth-biggest seller of all time. (That album will soon have a better chance to climb the rankings, as the band readies a new version of “Rumours” that will include previously unreleased demos and behind-the-scenes footage of its creation.)
But Lindsey Buckingham says something else is different this time around with the band - a quartet these days with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, as keyboardist-singer Christine McVie has retired from touring. “There’s never been a time when there hasn’t been a certain amount of angst or alienation or pain or something going on,” says Buckingham, calling from his Los Angeles home. “You have to remember that even when Stevie and I first joined Fleetwood Mac, she and I were already in the process of breaking up on some level. John and Christine McVie were in the same place. ... That’s all different. Every time we get together, it’s like a new play, a new story, and I think there are still new chapters to be written about this band.”
It was actually Buckingham’s quest for things to feel different that delayed this tour. “When we got off the road in 2004, I told everyone, ‘Just don’t knock on my door for three years,”” says Buckingham, whose desire to work on a solo album intensified after songs from an earlier solo project got rolled into the last Fleetwood Mac album, “Say You Will.” “I get most of the sense of growth and aspiring to be an artist, keeping the sense of religion about the work, from my solo work.”
The rest of Fleetwood Mac was supportive of Buckingham’s work, which became last year’s “Gift of Screws.” Nicks remembers the meeting clearly: “He was like, ‘The years are ticking by here, and I need to work on my solo work - you, Stevie, have been working on your solo work since 1981. I need a couple years and I’m gonna do a couple of CDs and I’m going to tour behind them and then I’d be ready to do another Fleetwood Mac tour.’ And we were all like, ‘OK, cool.’
“We were happy for him to do that,” Nicks adds. “Happy people are happy people in bands. ... He seems to be happy now.”
Buckingham says he is happy these days, both personally and professionally. The success of “Gift of Screws,” critically and commercially, helped him get rid of the feelings of professional frustration he had in recent years. Now, he is eager for that happiness to continue on a Fleetwood Mac tour and he is eager for fans to see the band truly having fun.
“You could make a case to say we’re resting on our laurels, I guess,” Buckingham says. “But at the same time, it does underscore the fact that we’re out there as people enjoying each other. Doing that without an album, it almost makes it easier to go out and make ‘the hang’ the thing. I think people are going to enjoy seeing ‘the hang’ as they are going to enjoy hearing the material. Oddly enough, over the years, many people have invested in us as people and the mythology or however you want to look at that - the tabloidism.”
Both Buckingham and Nicks say they plan to show people that on this tour, despite all the breakups and the band turmoil, everything turned out fine. “Without the music, we are still really, really good friends,” Nicks says. “We’ve spent more time with each other than we’ve spent with anybody else, even our real families. This family always took precedence over our real family.”
After all, part of Fleetwood Mac’s appeal was the fact that it seemed like a family, one that was, at times, as dysfunctional as any soap opera creation. Nicks says part of the success of “Rumours” was that fans related to the very public airings of the band’s private relationships.
“While we were breaking up, everybody else was breaking up, too,” she says. “We were in our 20s and everyone else - from 16 to 65 - was having their boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife problems. I think that it really resonated in the relationships of everybody. If you were hearing ‘Go Your Own Way’ from Lindsey to Stevie, you were also hearing it from you to your ex-wife. If you were hearing ‘Dreams’ from Stevie - I was trying to put it in a nicer way, like the Indians say, ‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know’ - I was saying that we will make it through this and hopefully we will still be friends on the other end. And that’s how it turned out.”
However, just because fans will know all the songs they hear on the “Unleashed” tour doesn’t mean the band doesn’t have some surprises up its sleeves.
“I suggested that we give ‘Storms’ a try - bring everybody down to the center of the stage and bring Mick in off the drums and do it in the original Brazilian samba way that it was written,” Nicks says. “We actually bring back some of the songs that we never got to do.”
The spirit of Christine McVie
They also are planning to work Christine McVie’s songs into the set, with Buckingham and Nicks handling the vocals for the first time. “We’re going to make sure the spirit of Christine McVie is there,” Nicks says. “If she could do it, she would be there, but she just hates the travel. She can’t do the airplane thing. She can’t do a different city every night. She was having panic attacks, and she never told us. She’s a tough Englishwoman and she never said a word.”
Buckingham says the idea that Sheryl Crow was going to join the band to handle McVie’s songs was “only a hypothetical” and never got off the ground. “You’re much better off to do them from the center out,” Buckingham says. “Otherwise, you’ve just brought someone in to basically cover her songs and it strikes me as a bit loungey, so that’s not going to happen.”
One thing that’s sure to happen is a new Fleetwood Mac record, though the timing of it hasn’t been worked out, since it depends on how long the current tour goes. “We will have time to hang and maybe throw some new material around, whether it’s after 46 dates or after we do some playing in Europe and some other places,” Buckingham says. “Eventually, we will get down to making an album, but it will be after we’ve had time to be not only close as people but sharp as musicians, too.”
And Nicks says she is just as determined.
“I think the world should have one more kick-ass Fleetwood Mac record,” she says. “We’re going to do it so the world can have it.”
THEY MAKE SINGIN’ FUN
For its new tour, Fleetwood Mac is planning to play songs by former member Christine McVie, with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks handling the vocals, for the first time since McVie retired from touring in 1998. “Christine really was the singles queen,” says Nicks.
Here are some of the songs they’re considering:
“Say You Love Me” (1975) - Sweet harmonies and “Fallin’, fallin’, fallin’.”
“You Make Loving Fun” (1977) - “Oh, woh-oh, can it be so?”
“Don’t Stop” (1977) - A smash even before the Clintons.
“Hold Me” (1982) - Videorific, harmony-filled single from “Mirage.”
“Little Lies” (1987) - Classic Mac updated with ‘80s pop.