Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1980

"The Mac Is Big at the Bowl"

Robert Hilburn

Fleetwood Mac's appearance Sunday [Aug. 31] at the Hollywood Bowl was billed as a concert, but the atmosphere much of the evening was more akin to a picnic.

Rock acts, including Janis Joplin and Elton John, once played the Bowl regularly, but sound level restrictions and curfew problems now work against the Hollywood venue as a site for rock shows.

Therefore, many young rock fans were first-timers at the Bowl, but they quickly picked up on its traditional picnic spirit. Nearly half the 18,000-plus crowd took advantage of the outdoor setting and the concert's early, 6 p.m. starting time to munch on chicken and other delights as they waited for the band.

As it turned out, they had quite a wait.

The opening act, singer-guitarist Christopher Cross, didn't go on until nearly 7. By the time Fleetwood Mac arrived at 8:10, the afternoon picnic had turned into a candlelight supper.

Without a box dinner, I was among those who just sat and watched others eat. The couple from Lakewood in the box next to me had been at the Bowl since 5 p.m. and had gone through two roast beef sandwiches by showtime.

It was the first time at the Bowl for Mark Frazier, 25, and he and Diane Upton, 23, enjoyed themselves.

"It's a lot more pleasant being able to sit out here in the fresh air than to sit in a smoke-filled arena," he said during intermission.

Mainly, though, he was on hand for the act, not the setting. Frazier loves Fleetwood Mac. More specifically, he loves Stevie Nicks, the quintet's coquettish co-lead singer. He saw three of the group's five concerts last December at the Inglewood Forum.

It's risky for a major rock attraction to return to town as fast as Mac did this time. To avoid overexposure at the box office and overfamiliarity on stage, most groups stay away at least a year, sometimes two.

Mac, however, didn't have any trouble with its drawing power or impact Sunday.

On the opening, upbeat "Monday Morning," the band quickly established its authority, playing with a joy and force that underscored an impressive point: Where most bands freeze artistically once they reach the superstar status that Mac achieved with its hugely successful "Rumours" album in 1977, this band has actually grown under that pressure. Its music is more adventurous on record and its playing is more daring on stage.

The result Sunday was the most satisfying and dynamic Fleetwood Mac appearance [in Los Angeles] yet. The band mixed its graceful ballads, like Christine McVie's "Over and Over," and its intense rockers, like Lindsey Buckingham's tenacious "Tusk," with breathtaking precision.

Even so, I eventually succumbed to all the food around me, slipping away during an acoustic break to the snack stand for a hot dog. You can only resist that picnic atmosphere for so long.

Fleetwood Mac's enthusiasm was almost as engaging at the Bowl as its music.

Singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham's informal attire, a white T-shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat, symbolized the unpretentious nature of the show.

Without interfering with the music, Buckingham engaged in playful jams with bassist John McVie and generally moved about with the joy of a kid who had just been handed the keys to a toy store.

The jams were also significant because they spotlighted the band's adventurousness. Frequently, groups stick to the album versions of their songs. That's not always bad. After all, those versions helped lure the audience to the concert. Sometimes, however, that practice can make a show stale.

Fleetwood Mac stuck close enough to the original arrangements to keep the customers satisfied Sunday, but the band benefited from opening up, especially on a rowdy treatment of Buckingham's "Not That Funny."

At other times, however, the jamming threatened to get out of hand, almost bordering on anarchy during the extended "World Turning."

One of the strengths of the Los Angeles-based group is its diversity. Just when one element seemed to be wearing thin, another singer or writer stepped forward to tilt things in another direction.

Stevie Nicks, who favors flowing cape-gown clothing that accentuates her woman-child face, is the flashiest performer and the most provocative songwriter in the band. She often punctuated her hauntingly ethereal tales, including "Rhiannon," with twisting and weaving motions that looked like a cross between an Indian rain dance and a witch casting a spell.

Buckingham is the rocker, helping move the band from its old soft-rock focus to a more involving hard-rock approach. He, too, has blossomed as a performer, adopting a near primal scream urgency on key vocals.

Christine McVie is the most retiring of the three singers, but her warmly romantic tunes, including "You Make Loving Fun" and "Think About Me," are more consistently appealing than either Buckingham or Nicks' more stylized material, which sometimes suffers from overly repetitious elements.

The group's outstanding rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie serves as a unifying force, moving with such ease among the different writers' tunes that the band avoids the conflict which could grow out of such diverse styles.

Fleetwood Mac's Bowl shows (also Monday night) marked the end of a year-long world tour and came amid rumors that the band was going to break up, or at least not tour any more.

With those rumors in mind, I hope the title of the closing song in Fleetwood Mac's two-hour set wasn't prophetic: "Go Your Own Way."

You can go to picnics any time, but mainstream pop-rock bands this good are hard to find these days.

Encouraging tag: A spokesperson for Fleetwood Mac denies the break-up reports and Buckingham, in saying good night to the crowd, pledged, "See ya next time."

Christopher Cross, the opening act, whose silky "Sailing" ballad is the Texas singer's second No. 1 single from his debut album, was reviewed at length during his recent Roxy engagement. His lackluster performance was brightened when Nicolette Larson joined him on backup vocals for one number.

Thanks to David for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.