Fleetwood Mac Live
Warner Brothers Records, 1980
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/30/1998
Sometimes, the term "live album" is used way too liberally.
Take the 1980 release from Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac Live. Released as a stopgap while the band finished up their album Mirage, this two-disc set features not only some lackluster performances, but also some songs that weren't recorded in front of a large audience. (But more on that in a few paragraphs.)
When this album came out, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie were still very much riding the crests of superstardom, despite the fact that their previous album Tusk was seen as a bit of a commercial letdown. While they worked their magic on Mirage (which wouldn't see the light of day until 1982), a collection of music recorded on the Tusk tour was packaged for Fleetwood Mac's first live release since, I think, Fleetwood Mac In Chicago. (Anyone wishing to verify/correct this, feel free to e-mail me.)
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: the live album is the most difficult thing for any artist to create, much less master. It is incredibly difficult to recapture the magic that you had on stage and translate it into one or two slabs of vinyl. For Fleetwood Mac, they were no exception.
Many of the performances on Fleetwood Mac Live suffer from bored-sounding performances. Some songs, like "Monday Morning" and "Landslide," feature performances that make it sound like people like Buckingham and Nicks could perform these in their sleep. Ironically enough, they sound half-asleep on these songs. Others, like "Say You Love Me" and "Never Going Back Again," just don't have the magic that their studio counterparts had. (For that matter, I honestly believe the studio version of "Never Going Back Again" will never be rivaled - it's an incredible piece of guitar work.)
There are some songs which rise above their studio brethren. One such example is "Oh Well," which first was released on Then Play On. Buckingham grabs this one by the throat and makes the song his own, all but erasing the memory of Peter Green from the track. This is one of the few performances on the album where Fleetwood Mac sounds excited to be performing this material. "Go Your Own Way" also shares in this magic.
But calling Fleetwood Mac Live a true live album is misleading. Two of these songs, "Dreams" and "Don't Stop" were recorded during a sound check - c'mon, guys, you mean to tell me that you didn't get one good performance of "Don't Stop" to tape on an over 100-date tour?!? Give me a break. (Per chance, should any member of the Mac be reading and wish to set me straight, I'm all ears.)
The plot sickens on three other songs - "Fireflies," "One More Night" and "The Farmer's Daughter," all of which were, as the liner notes put it, "recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for crew and friends." Ah - in layman's terms, a sound check?!?
Yes, I know that some bands have used one side of an album (or the equivalent of one side) to include new studio material - that's fine, so long as you keep the live stuff together. I honestly don't think I would have had such a problem if Fleetwood Mac had grouped these five songs together and stuck them on side four. Then again, I cannot fathom why they would use sound check takes of two of their best-known songs in lieu of live performances. (To their credit, they didn't just dub over crowd noises, as some bands have been rumored to do.)
Diehard Fleetwood Mac fans will no doubt latch onto Fleetwood Mac Live as a treasure - just watch out for the fool's gold hidden inside. Check it out if you must -- but approach this one with caution.