Grand Rapids Press 7-14-98

Nicks takes fans through big Mac years

By John Serba

In the rock history scheme of things, Stevie Nicks is an obvious reference point for the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and the rest of the pop divas worshipped by VH1.

After the gold dust and the glitter twinkled away and the frilly shawls were hung up Monday night, I had a revelation.

I watched as almost 7,000 fans cheered for Stevie Nicks at her Van Andel Arena appearance, flashed back to this summer's Lilith Fair and then -- wham! -- suddenly, I had a new perspective on female musicians.

As the 50-year-old Nicks (who looks 30, I might add) guided her 10-piece backing band through songs like "Outside the Rain," "Twisted" and the Fleetwood Mac classics "Dreams" and "Rhiannon," the pieces fell into place: Nicks is an obvious reference point for the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and the rest of the pop divas worshipped by VH1.

Admittedly, that isn't exactly a grand piece of insight if you're part of the generation that has followed Nicks since the '70s. But for a kid who just fell off the musical turnip truck in the midst of Lilith County, well, it's like re-discovering King Tut's tomb.

Think about it -- mix some Joni Mitchell-style sincerity with some Kate Bush quirkiness and Nicks' orchestration, subtle use of pop hooks and touch of darkness, and what do you have? McLachlan, who's considered the epitome of female singer/songwriters in the '90s. It's the Logical Lilith Link.

Nicks' show, essentially, was a history lesson (and a reason for her to plug her new three-CD retrospective boxed set, "Enchanted"). She performed acoustic versions of her earlier songs -- her "trilogy" of "After the Glitter Fades" (hearing her sing "I never thought I'd make it here in Hollywood" was one of the show's magic moments), "Garbo" and "Rose Garden" (written in 1965, when she was 17); the trauma-tinged Fleetwood Mac staples "Dreams" and "Gold Dust Woman" extol the '70s; "Edge of Seventeen" marks the transfer to disco; the synth-drenched "Stand Back," which was co-written by Prince, embraces the '80s; and "Twisted," a song for the '96 film "Twister," is a combo platter of the above.

In fact, upbeat cuts like "Whole Lotta Trouble" and "Enchanted" seem to predate the current trend in country music of removing the hick and adding the rock 'n' roll. Is it just me, or is Stevie Nicks a bit unsung?

One element that Nicks carries that seems to be missing in newer artists is her mysterious, misty character. She dances -- spinning in circles, clad in layers of tattered-looking, nouveau-Victorian dresses and shawls, singing her cryptic poetry (which brings Tori Amos to mind) in an unwavering, strong and emotional voice. It's strangely timeless, and rather captivating.

What wasn't captivating was the too-long percussion/drum solo about two-thirds through the set. I have one question: Why? And why not include "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" instead?

However, that's a minor complaint when you put the rest of the show in perspective. Whether you call her performance the ultimate commercial for the boxed set or a well-designed retrospective on Nicks' career is moot. I went into the show indifferent, and came out wanting to hear and learn more -- and that's high praise.

Opener Boz Scaggs seemed to take the Van Andel crowd by surprise with an energetic set of songs ranging from slow blues to R&B to rootsy electric folk. Scaggs' guitar playing was quite expressive, and his six-piece band featured one of the tightest rhythm sections I've seen in a while. The singer/songwriter mingles between genres so well, I have to go out on a limb and say that he is to the adult-contemporary set what Dave Matthews is to the college crowd.

Thanks to CL Moon for sending this article to us.