Peter Green and the Early Years of Fleetwood Mac
1 Blu-Ray / 2 CDs (BMG 2021)
On February 25, 2020, days before England (and most of the rest of world) was locked down due to Covid-19, Mick Fleetwood staged a concert in celebration in of Peter Green and the early years of Fleetwood Mac.
Fleetwood assembled a “House Band” to back the large number of guests who’d signed on to pay their respects.
Ricky Petersen served as the musical director, (a position he served in for Dave Sanborn and Prince among many others) and played keyboards.
On bass was Dave Bronze a veteran of the British Blues scene. He is perhaps best known for his work on Eric Clapton’s “From the Cradle” CD and the tours he did with Clapton in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
Another British Blues veteran and frequent Clapton collaborator, Andy Fairweather Low was on guitar
Rounding out the House Band were two more guitarists, both American.
At thirty-nine, Jonny Lang was by far the youngest person on stage all evening, yet he already had almost a quarter of a century experience touring and recording under his belt, having released his first LP at the age of fifteen.
Rick Vito first worked with Mick Fleetwood forty-three years ago, in 1987 when he and Billy Burnette joined Fleetwood Mac, replacing Lindsey Buckingham. Vito stayed with the band until 1991, when he left to pursue a solo career. He was also an in-demand session musician, playing with a wide array of artists.
In 2008, he reteamed with Fleetwood for the Mick Fleetwood’s Blues Band featuring Rick Vito.
As with that group, Vito is the featured guitarist and vocalist in the house band.
Vito and the house band open the show with a number he and Fleetwood had first recorded back in 2008
Disc 2: CD – Act I
A nice way to ease into the evening, the band slips into the Otis Rush inspired rhumba with Vito and Lang trading licks and Fleetwood tapping out the syncopated beat. For me, the problem is Vito’s vocal. It is colorless, lacking any sense of personality. Missing is the sense of flirtation that Green brought to the number and the disarming playfulness, the self-awareness that he was not a Casanova, just a randy lad.
Half way through the first break Vito brings some welcome excitement to the number, with Ricky Petersen’s keyboards a welcome addition.
The final verse and outro revert back to studiously recreating the original, ending the number with more of a fizzle than a bang.
Before they begin the second number, Fleetwood brings out Zak Starkey to join him of drums.
Rick Vito then introduces Jonny Lang.
The opening notes of Otis Rush’s ‘Homework’ are a pleasant jolt, and the adrenaline begins to flow a little faster. Musically, the band remains faithful to Green’s arrangement, but Lang’s vocal is far more excitable than anything Green would attempted; depending on your tastes, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.
For myself, I like that Lang brings his own styling to the song, interpreting the number rather than recreating it. His physical and mental agitation manifesting itself in his vocal, and more importantly in his guitar playing, with the first break more a tribute to the song’s originator, Otis Rush, than Green.
The second break he makes his own and for me, this is a more fitting tribute to Green, acknowledging the inspiration he provided and the lineage of music that inspired him.
Dinky Dawson told of Green jamming with a then unsigned trio after a show in Austin, Texas, in December of 1969, and the impression that he made on the band’s guitarist. Fifty years later, that guitarist, Billy Gibbons, flew to London to pay his respects.
Gibbons tips his hat to Jeremy Spencer with this number, using his arrangement of Buster Brown’s 1960 single, ‘Doctor Brown’.
Elmore James’ electrified ‘Dust My Broom’ riff is slowed down a bit, and the arrangement features a nice mix of instruments, with Petersen’s piano weaving in and out of the guitars, but Gibbons’ voice is now more of a croak than a growl, and this “bad man’s boast” of his sexual healing powers comes off as more wishful thinking than promise.
Gibbons’ guitar playing still has bite and the number is most successful when Gibbons and the band just play.
Gibbons remains on stage as Fleetwood brings out the next guest, the eighty-seven-year-old John Mayall who proceeds to lead the “kids” on stage in the evening’s first real highlight.
All Your Love (I Miss Loving)
Gibbons plays the number’s iconic opening chords and Mayall plays keyboards. Everyone on stage seems energized by Mayall’s appearance; the grin on Lang’s face, infectious.
Rick Vito’s slide work on the break is best of the evening this far; he then hands it off to Billy Gibbons who rises to the challenge Vito presented him.
Mayall’s vocal is robust and the band back him with chanted “Hey, hey hey”s in the final verse, as Fleetwood and Starkey hold the number at a steady boil. A real treat.
Gibbons remains on stage for the next guest also.
Tyler and Aerosmith were performing this number as far back as 1971 (a live radio performance of the number was released on their 1991 box set “Pandora’s Toys”) Their arrangement owes more to Led Zeppelin than Fleetwood Mac, with the rhythm slow and sludgy, carrying over to extended outro, copped from Fleetwood Mac’s live performances.
Tyler shouts out the opening line a capella and the four guitarists rush in behind him, pounding out the beat. Zak Starkey has put down his sticks for the number, replacing them with three maracas.
Gibbons dominates the soundscape during the first verse, at the end of which Tyler blows some perfunctory harmonica.
Vito asserts himself on the break taking the lead on slide guitar, while Gibbons plays beneath him. Tyler rattles a shekere and waits his turn to sing the final verse.
Vito takes the lead again and brings everyone along with him into and through the outro.
Through it all, Fleetwood’s drumming supercharges the number. His best performance so far.
Gibbons exits the stage; and Steven Tyler remains behind as Mick Fleetwood introduces Christine McVie.
Stop Messin’ Round
The energy level remains high as Vito peals off the opening licks to ‘Stop Messin’ Round’. McVie’s voice has softened over the years, but her piano playing is as vibrant and welcome as it was on the 1968 studio recording of the number.
Steven Tyler blows harmonica during the first two verses and the break elicits some of Vito’s best playing. The band stretches the break, providing both Tyler and McVie the opportunity to show off a bit.
Here is a number that captures the spirit of the early Fleetwood Mac, rather than attempting to reproduce it. A lot of fun.
The song was also a favorite of Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who took the lead vocal when Aerosmith recorded it for their blues covers CD, 2004’s “Honkin’ on Bobo”.
Tyler and Starkey then exit, leaving McVie with the house band.
Looking For Somebody
McVie’s arrangement transforms Green’s original; her burbling organ replacing the carnal harmonica. As sung by Green, one could imagine a person awakening from a one-night-stand to an empty room, replaying what they can remember of the night in their mind and wondering if they could ever find that person again.
McVie’s arrangement turns the number into a duet with Rick Vito; an eighties video of two lonely souls in search of one another, their paths converging but not crossing as they wander a neon lit city at night.
While I prefer the grit of the original to the glossy makeover it is given here, others may appreciate their taking a different approach to the song.
With Zak Starkey rejoining the house band, the spotlight once again falls to Jonny Lang
There are only five recordings of Fleetwood Mac performing this number in circulation, all in a live setting. The number was a rare tune where the band seemed to struggle to find the right balance musically and Green himself, vocally, to capture both the locomotive power and the humor in the song.
Ironically, it is the earliest performance, captured during a stand at the Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles in January of 1970 that is by far the best. Unfortunately, it also has the worst sound quality.
A thematic cousin to ‘Homework’, Lang once again tears into the lyrics with a hormone addled intensity, losing the humor. Where Green modulated his vocal, as did the band their playing, turning it down to bring it back up, the band stays in the red here.
They sound great, Fleetwood’s drumming (mirrored by Zak Starkey) is superior to his playing fifty-years earlier. The number also features Ricky Petersen’s swirling organ fills, which add to excitement, (Jeremy Spencer provided the keyboard work for the live recordings that we have)
Lang’s break mimics his vocals, and with the band all pounding away, it works for the song.
Unfortunately, as there is no where else to go but up, Lang’s vocals after the break are even more dramatic than before, but the music makes up for it.
Zac Starkey once again makes his exit, leaving the house band on stage; Rick Vito does a brief introduction (not heard on the CD) and tackles one of Green’s most haunting numbers. Not a good idea.
Love That Burns
Originally recorded for “Mr. Wonderful” (in his introduction, Vito mistakenly places it on their debut), the number, powerful as it was, was not yet fully formed.
Four months after recording the number, Green performed it on BBC television (the video has been lost, but the audio survived – first seeing release in 1998) rearranged the studio version, placing his guitar solo at the beginning of the number, making the questions that the lyrics ask all sound as if he already knows the answer.
Perhaps because the stakes are so high, for me, this is first real misfire of the evening.
Vito’s guitar playing is as colorless as his vocals; completely lacking in emotion, his slide runs sound limp, and Petersen’s keyboards, so effective on the other numbers come off as cartoonish.
The arrangement is played too fast; for the singer, time has slowed, each minute spent alone, an eternity. Here, the time clicks away at a steady pace.
There was a hesitancy in Green’s vocals, as if it hurt to give voice to these feelings, yet knowing that he had to release them or be consumed by them from the inside, out.
Vito’s voice is emotionless. He simply sings the song, reciting the words without feeling or understanding them and this carries over to his guitar playing. His slide work on the number would fit on almost any slow blues that he played, rather than being intrinsic to the song.
More surprising, and disappointing, are Petersen’s keyboard fills, so effective on the other numbers, the tip-toeing high notes seem to have come from a children’s Halloween special.
This number was meant as a showstopper, and it was for me, only not in the way intended.
In the video, Fleetwood steps down from his drum riser and speaks to the audience of his objective for this evening. He speaks of Peter Green and the band as a series of still photographs of them all in their youth scroll behind him. As he speaks, the stagehands scurry about and around him, setting up six wooden chairs in the front of the stage.
Acoustic set –
The World Keep on Turning
From left to right they are soon occupied by Dave Bronze, Rick Vito, Mick Fleetwood, Noel Gallagher and Jonny Lang.
Gallagher was a bit of a wild card in the night’s line-up, something that he himself acknowledges in the video as he settles in. “I know what some of you are thinking, ‘He doesn’t have the fucking blues’. “We’re about to find out. You may, after this.”
Gallagher makes subtle changes to the rhythm and the lyrics, singing “She saw me crying…” where Green sang “Nobody saw me crying…”, personalizing the number, which feels right for the intimate setting.
Bronze keeps time with one hand, tapping on the strings and Fleetwood adds accents using his drumsticks to gently tap the shekere laying on the floor between his feet.
Gallagher takes the first guitar break and Lang the second.
Gallagher, and the others expertly walk the tightrope of changing the number to fit his style and approach while honoring the original spirit of the song.
Gallagher next goes into Danny Kirwan’s ‘Like Crying’. Jonny Lang takes the lead parts on this one, while Vito plays support.
Gallagher plays and sings this one closely to the original, but the four guitarists fill out the sound quite nicely.
Lang’s playing on this beautifully captures Kirwan’s sensibility even as he puts his own spin on it.
Gallagher remains on stage as Vito swaps his acoustic for an electric guitar and the six slip into the deep groove of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘No Place to Go’.
No Place to Go
This is far better suited to Vito’s strengths and weaknesses. He doesn’t try and duplicate Green’s take on it, let alone Wolf’s. He doesn’t need to. He knows that his voice is far too soft, so he lets his slide insinuate his threats.
Lang takes the second verse, bringing his quivering intensity, but not pushing it too hard.
Vito takes a quick break on guitar and then graciously hands it off to Lang for a slightly shorter one.
Vito sings the final verse and then allows Fleetwood a final spoken aside before the band bring the number to a quiet finish.
This three song mini-set was one a highlight for me, the arrangements paying tribute to those, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, and through Green, Howlin’ Wolf, who inspired them.
As the stagehands reset the stage, Fleetwood releases the audience for a bathroom break and an opportunity to check out the merchandise tables. On stage, a film clip of the band performing ‘Albatross’ (familiar to most fans) is projected but the music that accompanies it is the instrumental ‘Fleetwood Mac’. An odd pairing as the music doesn’t match the images (no one in the clip is playing harmonica and Kirwan was not yet in the group when ‘Fleetwood Mac’ was recorded)
As with Noel Gallagher, the performer who closes out Act I is not one who most would associate with the music of Peter Green or Fleetwood Mac: Pete Townshend.
I don’t know how deeply Townshend may know Green and Kirwan’s catalogs, but I could imagine him feeling an affinity with both. The Rock sound that Kirwan brought to ‘One Sunny Day’ and ‘Loving Kind’ as well as the power pop leanings of his solo work, and the spiritual longing found in Green’s ‘Before the Beginning’ and ‘Closing My Eyes’. It is easy to imagine a younger Townshend performing an acoustic version of the latter, as it almost sounds like one of his hymns to the Meher Baba.
And again, like Gallagher, Townshend begins by admitting that though they are all here to honor Green and his music, he wasn’t particularly friendly with him, though he did know him. He goes on to say that the song that he has chosen has nothing to do with Peter.
Before beginning, he tells the audience that he would like to show them something, and plays the opening to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.
A wide grin spreads across his face as he says, “Now, listen to ‘Station Man’.
I admit that having listened to both songs for decades I never picked up on the similarities. Before starting the number, Townshend makes sure that there is no misunderstanding, saying simply, “This one came first.”
Rick Vito joins Townshend on both guitar and vocals.
There is something almost poignant about Townshend coming out to acknowledge a fellow artist even though his connection to him is tenuous at best.
Admitting the inspiration for one of his best-known numbers seems like something that he felt he owed to Kirwan; a debt repaid fifty years later.
Townshend turns the “Kiln House” number into something much more resembling his middle period with The Who, all power chords and loud guitar.
For me, it is only Townshend’s vocals that slightly lowers the score for the number. Just shy of seventy-five when the show was recorded, Townshend’s voice has coarsened considerably over the years, and he compensates with growls and shouts to the detriment of the songs.
The number certainly brings Disc 2: CD – Act I to a rousing close but in the flow of the show, the acoustic set should be considered the end of Act I; ‘Station Man’ was most likely placed on the first disc due to time constraints.
We’ll take a look at Disc 3: CD – Act II in a future post –