When Fleetwood Mac's Live reached store shelves in time for Christmas 1980, the deluxe 2-LP set was following another mammoth affair: Tusk, released just fourteen months earlier. While Tusk was a success by any measure - it reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and yielded two U.S. top ten singles - it fell off the album chart within nine months as opposed to its predecessor, Rumours, which spent a record-breaking nine consecutive weeks at No. 1 in 1977-1978 on its way to becoming one of the biggest sellers of all time. Live, produced by the band with Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut, was intended to fill that void. It did well enough, reaching No. 14 U.S/No. 31 U.K. and earning a Gold certification from the RIAA less than one year after its release. Live was introduced into the band's CD catalogue in 1988, and that original edition has been a mainstay ever since. Last month, Rhino added Live to its series of remastered and expanded Mac reissues already including Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumours (1977), Tusk (1979), Mirage (1982), and Tango in the Night (1987). Expanded with nearly 80 minutes' worth of unreleased live music, this 3CD/2LP set (Rhino R2 599176) is a worthy addition.
Appropriately enough, the original album begins with the same song that opened the Buckingham/Nicks era of the band on 1975's Fleetwood Mac: Lindsey Buckingham's rousing "Monday Morning" from a 1980 stand at Tokyo's Budokan Hall. The songwriter's guitar and voice are both in gutsy form, and it proves as effective an opener to Live as it did on Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood happily never settled on one "sound," so all sides of the group from ballsy rockers to balladry and even a nod to FM's blues-rock roots are heard on Live. Night to night, the band eschewed playing it safe, expanding upon their polished studio productions rather than strictly recreating them. (Yes, it's believed that much of the original album was overdubbed, but that's hardly uncommon.)
Live could well have been "just" a survey of the band's hits; they'd certainly accumulated enough over just three albums with the "new" line-up. Indeed, all nine of Mac's 1975-1979 top twenty singles were included on Live other than "You Make Loving Fun" and "Tusk." Live performances of both are featured on the bonus disc, CD 3. But the eighteen selections went deeper than just Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, and Tusk, beginning with the excavation of band co-founder Peter Green's blistering and rhythmic "Oh Well" from St. Louis, MO in 1979. Buckingham also cut loose on an extended rendition from Cleveland of his own "Not That Funny," bringing a furious energy to his musical answer to the punk movement; the Live sequence then finds him in sensitive, reflective mode with "Never Going Back Again" during which he captivates with just voice and guitar. The 1980 performance from Tucson's McKale Center (capacity: 13,053) is one of many instances preserved on Live in which the band seemingly transforms a large arena into a much more intimate venue.
The May 20-21, 1980 stop in Cleveland is well-covered on the album. In addition to "Not That Funny," Buckingham yowls and yelps his way through one of the band's signature songs, "Go Your Own Way." It's one of the rawest performances from the original LP. He also delivers a tour de force of guitar pyrotechnics on "I'm So Afraid." On this foray into heavy territory, it's possible to draw a straight line from the early blues-rock days to the more sonically pristine Buckingham/Nicks era. But before Buckingham/Nicks, there was Buckingham Nicks, the duo album they released on Polydor in 1973 which remains the best album destined to never see official release on CD. Reinvented with Fleetwood Mac, that album's "Don't Let Me Down Again" is one of many showcases here for the tight, crackling interplay between band members including the too-unsung band namesakes, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Christine McVie also shines on Live. Her touchingly wistful "Over and Over" is as slow-burning as her bright "Say You Love Me" is urgent, while "Don't Stop" near the end of the composite setlist is delightfully rollicking. Stevie Nicks' sparkling "Dreams" from a Paris soundcheck adds a compelling grit. Her "Sara" boils with intensity, and a fiery, pulsating "Rhiannon" runs over seven minutes' long with some lyrics not heard on the studio version. Equally if not more affecting is Nicks' emotional "Landslide" from London's famed Wembley Arena. Rarely has the singer sounded so tender and vulnerable. Her performance forces the listener to hear the familiar song's lyrics anew, rediscovering their power and elegant simplicity in the process. (All of these were recorded in 1980 save "Sara," pulled from a 1979 gig.)
Three new songs were placed on Live, all reportedly recorded in front of family and friends at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in September 1980. Nicks' uptempo "Fireflies" ruminated on the group's already tumultuous times and the connections that kept the five together. Christine McVie's slow, smoldering "One More Night" epitomized her seemingly effortless songcraft. Buckingham didn't supply a new composition but rather turned to a hero, Brian Wilson, for a beautifully harmonized version of Beach Boys semi-rarity "Farmer's Daughter."
The 1980 Live, presented on the first two CDs of this set, never quite feels like one true show. It lacks a lot of banter and the flow could be stronger, but it more than makes up for it in the quality of the performances. The bonus disc here (CD 3) is a tremendous supplement. While it's missing many of Fleetwood Mac's central songs as it doesn't repeat any numbers from the original LP, it nonetheless plays more seamlessly and believably in the manner of a full concert.
The 15-song disc returns to those great Cleveland shows but otherwise draws from numerous gigs not represented on the original album including stops in Inglewood, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Tulsa, Omaha, and Little Rock. These newly-unearthed performances span 1977-1982, so tracks from latter years wouldn't have been in consideration for the original album released in 1980. Though one wonders if an unabridged concert from this period will ever surface, this set is in the spirit of Live and finally gives the album performances of the "big songs" missed the first time around. These include staples of FM's repertoire such as "Second Hand News," an ebullient "You Make Loving Fun," and dazzling "The Chain." John McVie's bass stands out in the mix, one of the crucial - and most underrated - links of that chain. The song is also a remarkable showcase for Buckingham and Nicks' intertwined vocals. Tusk gets much more time on the bonus disc ("Sisters of the Moon," "Think About Me," "Tusk," "What Makes You Think You're the One," "Brown Eyes," "Angel") and still other favorites from Rumours ("Gold Dust Woman," "Songbird"), Fleetwood Mac (the energetic closer, "Blue Letter"), and Mirage (the shimmering "Hold Me") are featured. Fans of Peter Green-era Mac will treasure hearing Buckingham and co. conjure the mystical atmosphere of "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)."
The 12" mix of the poignant "Fireflies" has been appended to the bonus disc. Stripped-down demos of "Fireflies" and "One More Night," sans harmonies and band instrumentation, are included on a 45 RPM single as there was no space on the bonus disc and the producers chose to maintain the integrity of the original album on two CDs. Dan Hersch has remastered all of the audio, and the crisp, present sound is consistent with past reissues in this series.
The packaging, too, is consistent with that of the previous releases. The discs are housed in a folder with the original gatefold photographs. The two black-vinyl LPs and the 45 are in one pocket, with each in an individual black sleeve. Each of the three CDs is also protected in its own paper sleeve. All of the discs have replica labels emblazoned with the new Warner Records logo, an unfortunate byproduct of Warner Music Group's final split from its Warner Bros. roots. The 16-page, LP-sized softcover booklet has David Wild's expectedly entertaining and affectionate essay as well as a tour itinerary. A number of the long-debated recording dates have been clarified in the new booklet (although various FM fans around the Internet have nonetheless called some of the new dates into question).
To survive the distance, everyone fights...and the fire flies, goes the lyrics of "Fireflies." Indeed, there have been more ups and downs in the Fleetwood Mac story than thought possible. And it isn't over yet. In the meantime, we have this expanded document of a particularly blazing period in Mac history. No one ever leaves. Everyone stays close 'til the fire fades...