Review: Mick Fleetwood & Friends Celebrate the Music of Peter Green and the Early Years of Fleetwood Mac
When Fleetwood Mac hit the road in 2019, the band replaced Lindsey Buckingham with Neil Finn and Mike Campbell.
It was near the end of the tour, at a show in Perth, Australia, that they first played ‘Man of the World’ with Neil Finn taking the lead vocal and Mike Campbell, on second guitar.
Disc 3: CD – Act II
Man of the World
It is a deceptively difficult number to pull off, only partially due to the personal nature of the number. Most who cover it fall into the trap of “Dramatizing” the vocals, rather than allowing the lyrics and music to do that work.
Finn thankfully resists treating the number as a soliloquy, and simply sings the song as he would any other.
Where the number goes wrong for me, is the arrangement.
As with the vocals on most of the covers, the tempo is too often slowed to a crawl, with the musicians playing the number as if it were too fragile to handle anything other than the most delicate treatment.
Finn plays the lead here, and throws in some minor variations on the intro; not really to my liking, but good for him; most surprising, are the two bass notes, echoing ‘Closing My Eyes’ that Dave Bronze plays just before the vocals begin.
Unfortunately, Bronze is difficult to hear on the rest of the number (I found him easier to hear on the Blu-Ray than on the CD); in Perth, John McVie’s velvety bass notes help carry the number.
I didn’t find much emotion in Finn’s vocals, and Vito adds a bit of slide, but not much else. Unlike the intro, Finn stays close to the original on the break.
I included the fan video from Perth for comparison because the band seemed to have a better understanding of the number; by playing it as part of the set, not a “Special Moment” requiring respectful silence from the audience, the number was returned to its roots. It is rock song, a special one for many listeners, musicians and fans alike, but still just one of many that Green wrote.
What made Campbell’s playing on the 2019 version so enjoyable is that it confirmed the number’s universality and strength by showing that it is adaptable and open to interpretation.
As Finn takes his leave, Billy Gibbons and Steven Tyler return to the stage.
Steven Tyler & Billy Gibbons
Oh Well (Pt. 1)
Gibbons kicks it off, his trademark abraded guitar sound a nice fit for the familiar riff. Paired with Rick Vito, they allow the intro to go a little longer than on the original, losing a bit of the impact.
Tyler and Gibbons duet on the song’s two verses, Tyler taking the first two lines of each and Gibbons the second.
Tyler also blows some rudimentary harmonica during the instrumental bridges.
Hard as they try, and they do try hard, the band, with four guitarists and two drummers can’t match the excitement of the original recording, or the live performances by the original band.
As the number ends, Fleetwood and Starkey sustain the number, and Tyler and Gibbons, along with Jonny Lang cede the stage to David Gilmour.
Oh Well (Pt. II)
More so than the other performers this night, Gilmour pays tribute to this number, rather than playing the number as originally composed.
Once past the two-minute mark, Gilmour plays a signature solo over the rhythm section’s slowly tolling recitation of the original arrangement.
The audience response is tremendous and deservedly so; my problem is that by so radically altering the arrangement to suit his own style, Green’s “voice” was drowned out. All that I could hear was Pink Floyd, not the original Fleetwood Mac.
Jonny Lang now returns and Zac Starkey exits, leaving the original house band on stage.
Need Your Love So Bad
Taking the opposite approach, Lang essays a close reading of Green’s cover of the Little Willie John classic, ‘Need Your Love So Bad’.
Lang’s intro sets the mood, and his (comparatively) restrained vocal on the first verse is promising.
For the first time, Andy Fairweather Low’s guitar can be clearly heard.
As with too many of the songs performed this night, what flowed smoothly in the original Fleetwood Mac recordings sound forced here as when they get to the third verse, as the music begins to crescendo, despite having three guitarists and a keyboardist, the build has no impact, and Lang falls back on his agitated vocals to build a sense of tension.
The guitar solo that follows is far more successful, capturing the emotion they are trying to convey.
As with a film with a slam-bang ending, the audience seems willing to forget what preceded the outro and Lang is rewarded with a standing ovation.
It is then Vito’s turn in the spotlight once more.
Zac Starkey returns to his place on the drum riser and assists Mick Fleetwood in backing Rick Vito on a spirited yet faithful reading of the live arrangement of ‘Black Magic Woman’.
Black Magic Woman
Once again, the weak link here is Vito’s vocal. His voice is so indistinct that the words become impersonal, lacking any sense of meaning.
Compare this with his guitar playing; starting at around 2:37 when he and Lang begin trading licks on the extended outro, the song begins to take off. All of the tension and release, the humor and menace that the lyrics could hold, are finally heard.
This is another number that plays better when watching the video as one can see the joy the musicians are taking in playing the number, especially Fleetwood.
Fleetwood rides that high as he introduces the next two guests: his old bandmate, with whom he has not shared a stage for fifty years, Jeremy Spencer and a legendary bass player who was an early inspiration to Peter Green; Green played bass in his earliest semi-pro bands; the then eighty-four year old Bill Wyman.
Rick Vito and Andy Fairweather Low remain on stage, while the rest of the House Band temporarily take their leave, including Fleetwood
Jeremy Spencer & Bill Wyman
The Sky Is Crying
This song has been in Spencer’s repertoire since he first began playing in Lichfield and he has continually returned to it over nearly sixty years. Not because he didn’t think that he had “perfected” it, but like the French Impressionist Claude Monet, repeatedly painting the same scene to capture the changing light and passing of the seasons, the passage of time, in this case, decades, changes his approach to how the song is sung and played.
Spencer has become more willing to deviate from the original recordings, allowing himself to play the songs as he sees fit at the time, rather than having a goal of faithfully reproducing the original recordings each time he plays them.
Spencer’s performance share little in common with the Elmore James original or any of his other performances of the song that I am aware of. It is a wonderful showcase for Spencer and a true act of generosity on Fleetwood’s part to provide Spencer this opportunity to have this moment this late in his career.
Fleetwood settles himself back behind his kit and he and Spencer kick off a number that they first played publicly at their band’s debut at the 7th Annual National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival in August of 1967. The song would become a staple of their live shows, with the last available recording dating from March of 1970.
I Can’t Hold Out (a.k.a Talk to Me Baby)
There are fourteen recordings available of this number from Spencer’s time with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac; while it retains the basic structure of the James’ original, and Spencer’s previous recordings of the song, the number has been slowed slightly and Spencer’s vocal allows for a more playful reading.
As with ‘The Sky Is Crying’, the more measured reading allows the listener to “hear” the interplay of instruments and piercing clarity of Spencer’s slide, without sacrificing the propulsive rhythm and excitement built into the number.
Spencer and the band build the up to a most satisfying finish and he receives a gratifying reception from the crowd, an earned standing ovation.
The full House Band returns to the stage, bringing Billy Gibbons back out with them, as Spencer and Wyman make their exit.
Fleetwood makes a brief introduction for the next performer, noting that he will be playing Peter Green’s guitar.
When the story came out in 2014 that Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett had purchased Peter Green’s 1959 Les Paul, the reaction in the Green fan community ranged from resignation (who else could afford it?), to bewilderment (why?), to horror (he’s a “metal” guitarist! Heavy metal, speed metal, thrash metal – what is he going to do that poor guitar?!)
For me personally, I believe an instrument is meant to be played, not simply displayed like a hunting trophy.
Kirk Hammett & Billy Gibbons
The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)
There are now five guitarists on stage and when they slam down the opening chords the sound for me comes the closest to capturing the power of the original recordings of the songs covered this night
Gibbons takes the vocal for the number as the ensemble faithfully reproduce the density and darkness of the studio recording.
Where Hammett proves himself is in the extended break; while he does not make any attempt at playing like Green, his own style meshes perfectly with the theme and intention of the song, building steadily, conveying the terror and disorientation of Green’s original, making this performance, for me, one of the most successful of the evening.
After the number, all of the musicians depart, with the exception of Andy Fairweather Low at the far side of the stage, standing in the shadows. Fleetwood comes down from his riser and takes center stage to tell the story of hearing The Beatles on the radio in 1969 making mention of ‘Albatross’ and how excited he and the band all were.
He dedicates the next number to both Peter Green and George Harrison whose birthday it was the night of the show.
Dave Bronze returns to the stage as does Zac Starkey and Rick Vito. David Gilmour is the last to return, taking a seat behind a lap steel guitar on legs.
David Gilmour & Rick Vito
Rick Vito takes the lead and Gilmour plays the soaring notes and cries of the title bird.
Unlike ‘Oh Well (Pt. 2)’, Gilmour stays closer to the original, to much better effect.
From it’s release in November of 1968 to one of the last shows that he performed with the band, in Bath, in 1970, the number was a staple of their live shows, exceptional in that it was the only number which remained the same, night after night, with no deviations from the studio recording to be heard on any of the twenty-four performances caught on tape.
After that peaceful interlude, Fleetwood thanks all of the musicians who participated in the night’s event as they file out and fill the stage from end to end.
Everyone who played is on the stage with the exception of Jeremy Spencer and David Gilmour.
Shake Your Moneymaker
Rick Vito takes the lead, serving as the “musical director” for the encore, calling out the individual performers to take a turn on either guitar or vocals.
Tyler blows harp during the intro. Vito takes the first verse and chorus. It seems only natural that Vito gives Jonny Lang the first guitar break. Lang turns in a tasteful little solo, just under sixty-seconds long and Steven Tyler jumps in with a verse from ‘Whole Lotta Shaking Going On’. The ensemble then shouts out another chorus and Vito calls up Andy Fairweather Low.
Low takes a verse and after another chorus Vito asks Billy Gibbons to step out. Gibbons squeezes the most out of his thirty seconds, perfectly setting up Vito for another verse.
Vito sings placeholder lyrics building to his proclaiming that “John Mayall, he’s going to play his harmonica now! C’mon John!”
Holding his harmonica up to his mouth, Mayall proceeds to use his thirty seconds to scat sing, not blowing a note on his harmonica, much to the amusement of Pete Townshend.
Another chorus and it is Hammett’s turn. He puts his “speed metal” skills to good use, making the most out of his thirty seconds. There is nothing “bluesy” about his playing or sound, but the energy level is right for the song.
As Hammett’s turn ends, Tyler inserts fifteen seconds of harmonica before the ensemble does another chorus and Billy Gibbons leads them all to a crashing finale.
Tyler shouts out to Green “…we love you Peter, wherever you are” and Mick Fleetwood has the final word, quoting Shakespeare, “If music be the food of love, then play on.”
Whatever one’s feelings about the individual performances and it is only natural that least favorites and favorites will vary by personal tastes, there is no denying the sincerity of purpose of all those involved (more vividly on display in the Blu-Ray than heard on the CD) to pay tribute to Peter Green and the early years of Fleetwood Mac.
Although some will insist that these performances will never replace the originals, they were never intended to. The best of them will provide a greater appreciation of the artistry of Green, Kirwan, Spencer, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood and the inspiration that the music they made had on such a wide variety of musicians.