Lindsey Buckingham: Alone and Kicking
Sunset Center, Carmel, CA, USA, May 10, 2012
Alone on a bare stage decorated only with an area rug and a sizable amp rig, two songs into a taut 90-minute set that epitomized words like “intensity” and “masterful,” Lindsey Buckingham paused to contemplate the long, twisting trail that has led the Palo Alto native to the top of the rock world, around the globe and back to Carmel's 800-seat Sunset Center as a still-vital solo act.
The “big machine”—the musical juggernaut Fleetwood Mac, of which Buckingham has been a part for 27 of the last 37 years—and the small machine—solo recording and touring—nourish and feed off of one another. After a long struggle to achieve balance between the two, Buckingham has concluded that both are necessary and each has a vital role to play in fueling his growth as an artist.
This sort of semi-obsessive self-examination lies at the heart of Buckingham’s work both inside and outside of the Mac. His songs, both solo and with the band, almost always navigate those critical moments in which life-altering choices are made, sometimes at great cost.
All of which was in ample evidence Thursday night at the Sunset Center, but so was this simple fact: dude can play guitar like nobody’s business. I wouldn’t exactly call being named one of Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of All Time a badge of honor—like most things RS does these days, the list was driven more by sales than merit—but Buckingham has surely earned a place on any such list imaginable.
Snapping off notes like little firecrackers, executing and repeating complex strummed figures on a small army of acoustics—he changed guitars after every single song, thrashing each within an inch of its life and killing one dead onstage in a moment of frustration—Buckingham put his virtuosity on full display from the opening notes of “Cast Away Dreams,” a pretty, somewhat contemplative number from 2006’s Under The Skin.
Buckingham’s well-paced show alternated between solo and Mac tunes, deftly drawing the audience into his less familiar solo catalog while sprinkling the set with old friends and FM radio classics. “Cast Away Dreams” was followed by “Bleed To Love Her” from FM’s 2003 comeback album Say You Will, both full of Buckingham’s trademark drive.
After another pair of solo tunes—the gorgeously rendered “Not Too Late” and a very pretty instrumental that might have been “This Was Nearly Mine”—Buckingham paused again to introduce “Big Love.” In one of several revealing monologues, Buckingham described how this particular Mac tune was intended quite differently from the way it’s generally been interpreted by audiences, the phrase “looking out for love” having been intended as a defensive hunkering down against love’s onslaught. Hearing the backstory definitely changed the way this listener heard the song—the sort of insight and interaction you can only get from an intimate evening like this.
The gorgeous “Never Going Back Again” from Rumours followed to huge response, though Buckingham chose to make numerous changes to its arrangement, altering tempo, build and vocal phrasing throughout. The crowd, to its credit, rolled with the changes and rewarded Buckingham with a standing ovation.
Returning to solo tunes (including the suitably manic “Go Insane”) Buckingham showed a tendency to execute the same sort of vocal/instrumental build on every song, soft to medium to furious to soft again, in an almost-verse-verse-chorus-verse arrangement. His delivery at times felt a bit overcooked and repetitive in that respect, but you can’t fault his intensity; the guy brings it 110 percent every time he steps up to the mike. Amazingly enough, the 62-year-old Buckingham’s voice sounds, if anything, better than it did ten years ago—richer, stronger, and under his complete control.
On a couple of tunes mid-show Buckingham accompanied himself with prerecorded, rather subdued rhythm tracks. At the close of the main set, he brought out a pair of electric guitars and used full prerecorded backing tracks (bass, drums and acoustic rhythm guitar) to pull off powerful, extended versions of Mac classics “I’m So Afraid” and “Go Your Own Way,” bringing the crowd to its feet once again. As one of our party put it afterwards: “That man loves to play guitar.”Encores of solo tunes “Trouble” and “Seeds We Sow” were well met and the evening ended with a sense of wonder and satisfaction at seeing an artist of unique intensity and focus bare his soul on a naked stage. The little machine and the big machine roll on, both filled still with life and power and a remarkable, timeless catalog of music. Long may they run.