Wednesday, April 01, 2015

I'm Getting Older Too

I saw Fleetwood Mac on their "On With The Show" tour here in Wichita last night. What a fantastic show it was! It was obvious that both the band and the sold-out crowd were all sharing in the same general feeling: that this was, rather than a concert, a generational event, a triumph of artistry and fun over time and all the vicissitudes of the human condition. That may sound pretentious...but then, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood all, at different points during the night, delivered exactly that kind of light-hearted (yet obviously plainly earnest) pretension, turning autobiographical and philosophical and sometimes downright New Agey as they celebrated each other and magisterially presented one song after another. And none of those songs, I should note, lacked the full burning musical talent of the mature Fleetwood Mac behind them. Christie McVie (at 71 years old!), at the keyboards, had a glorious voice that still carried. Mick Fleetwood played and grooved and cackled behind his drum set like a deranged--bu immensely talented--Santa Claus. John McVie never said a word, and it was only rarely that his crunching blues sound took command, but his bass lines were always there. Stevie Nicks, without an ounce of apparent irony, did her Earth-Mother-Celtic-Goddness thing, her fringe spinning as he danced and swayed and sang like she did nearly 40 years ago. And Lindsey Buckingham? An absolute revelation to me. I knew he was a fine guitarist--but not that fine. His fret-work was astonishingly fast and strong, and his sound was clean and sharp, and he did it all as he leaped and kicked and yelped around the stage like Mick Jagger in his prime. Sometimes he got downright psychedelic--which perhaps was appropriate: whatever their English blues roots, this really still is a 1970s San Francisco hippie rock and roll band. Someone needs to tell Grace Slick and all the other former members of Jefferson Airplane who went slumming into Starship in the 1980s: this is the way it gets done.

I could help but think as we looked at these Social-Security-receiving (the youngest of the core group is Buckingham, at 65) musicians, consummate professionals all: how much pop and rock has changed in my lifetime. The fact that so very many of the best, most famous and influential bands from the 1970s and 1980s (which, as I have noted, was when my radio-smitten musical tastes were mostly formed) haven't changed is sort of the point. I can remember, as I first became acquainted with pop music as an adolescent, listening to these titanic (or so their appeared to me) gods of pop and rock--one of whom was, of course, Fleetwood Mac--realizing the shadow that they all played in: the real giants, the real pioneers, were out there, sometimes still stalking the earth, and being reminded to them--much less seeing them--was an occasion of amazement, awe, and often outright, even irreverent, disbelief.

Nowadays, of course, more than 30 years after people joked about 40-year-old rock stars, it seems like every person who is remotely serious about pop music and their dog has seen at least one these dinosaurs live, because they're everywhere. The Rolling Stones, at it for more than 50 years, are going back on tour. But forget about those pioneers; look at second and third generations of rock and pop bands, of whatever genre, and the longevity of the most successful of them. U2 will be 40 years old next year: still active, still recording, still touring. Metallica, 35 years old next year: the same. Pearl Jam, 25 years old: the same. All of this is by now, you might think, normal. Watching Fleetwood Mac, I heard and saw great performances, but I also couldn't help but be impressed by the huge, complicated business it was (our seats were high enough and nearer enough for us to be able to see behind the backdrop and the stage risers) to put on one of these shows. It was like a massive--but well-oiled and efficient--moving art installation project. There's a routine to it; these artists and the hundreds they employ with the millions of dollars these tours generate understand how to make it happen. And watching these experienced musicians move smoothly around the stage, it was undeniable that they buy into it. They're performers, and this is the way they deliver their performance. Why not keep doing it as long as mind and body allow; why walk away from your vocation, when the money and fans are still there? It gets to the point where you really wonder if Led Zeppelin or The Police or R.E.M. were perhaps just strange anomalies: successful bands that broke up and actually stayed broken up (for the most part, anyway).

As my friend Michael Austin always reminds me, it's all about us: we're the ones in our 40s and 50s, now in possession of some genuine buying power, who are willing to pay significant amounts of cash to see these talented folk whose tunes were so important to us 20 or 30 or more years ago. My friends and I swapped stories about who we'd drop serious coin to see. All of the ones named were bands and artists from decades ago. And, almost without exception (my friend who voted for Queen is obviously a bit out of running, unless a replacement for Freddie Mercury miraculously appears), it's all still possible. Capitalism may be responsible for any number of things that I dislike, but how can I fault a market system which smooths the way for folks with real talent to continue to deliver, even to me here in Wichita, Kansas, well performed music decades after I ever could have normally had any reasonable chance to see them live? Well done, you big beautiful impersonal technology-driven age-defying economic machine; well done indeed.

(Though honestly, Lindsey, would it have killed you to play "Trouble"? C'mon, man!)


Withywindle said...

So the band Kansas ... do they get played much in your parts?

Russell Arben Fox said...

Not as much as you might imagine, give their name; most Kansans, from what I can tell, are much more likely to identify with various country artists than with a classic rock band simply because of their name.