Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lindsey Buckingham: One Man Show

I’ve told this story before, but I’m not sure I’ve told it completely.


I discovered Lindsey Buckingham before I really understood what Fleetwood Mac was.


I was in the library, CD browsing, and my dad pulled out Go Insane, Lindsey’s second solo album.  “He’s the guy from Fleetwood Mac,” said my dad, as though I knew who that was.


I should have, as my dad had given me a CD of the best o’ Fleetwood Mac not a while before that.  But if we’re all stuck with a band from the moment we met them, Mac will always be the guys who did Tango In the Night.  So I knew most of that record, and those hits, and for some reason, the song Tusk always stuck with me (probably because it was just such a weird little song) but otherwise?


I never really realized that at one point they were The Biggest Band In the World.


It would be years, in fact, before I finally listened to Rumors all the way through, and went, “Oh, THAT’S what all the fuss is about.”


I don’t remember what else, if anything, I grabbed out of the CD racks that day, but I took Go Insane home, and…


I don’t know how else to say it, but it kind of blew my mind.


It was the mixing that got to me.  Lindsey bouncing his vocals back and forth from one speaker to another, multi-tracking his voice so that he was singing six or more parts (I counted them, probably wrong, but I did my best).


It was a little Rock.  It was a little Art.  It was oddly highbrow, with odd little instrumental passages, and walls of vocals, and when I looked to the liner notes it said that just about every instrument was played by Lindsey.


I listened to it constantly, and loved the record deeply, and I think it might have been the first time I realized that sometimes, you can’t convince anyone that a thing you love is amazing as you think it is. 


Lindsey’s next solo record was Out of the Cradle.  That one I’ve pushed on a half-dozen people, all of whom like or love it to one degree or another.


But Go Insane?  A lot of the time, that feels like it’s just for me.


I’ve bought all of Lindsey’s studio records since then, and loved them all to one degree or another.  For some reason his Art/Rock crossover never quite worked as well for me on his other records, though I’m not sure why. 


But I’ve skipped his live records, mostly because that’s just what I do.  I’m okay with the existence of live recordings, but for the most part they’re just not-as-well-recorded versions of songs I already like.  Why listen to something inferior if I don’t have to?


Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of seeing someone live, and the idea of a souvenir from a show I saw intrigues me as well.  But too often, it feels like an inside joke.  You had to be there.


I’m also not much of a fan of iTunes.  I realize that much of the world has moved on from owning objects, and as an indie author I acknowledge that it’s easier to put MP3s into the world than it is a physical thing.  But I dislike trusting my ownership to something as self-destructive as a computer.


And still… when I heard Lindsey Buckingham was touring around, doing a literal one man show, him and a guitar, I had to hear it.  And iTunes was, quite literally, the only way.


It’s an intriguing idea, really.  I don’t know how many people really consider the comparison, but the most famous version of Fleetwood Mac is surprisingly similar to The Beatles.  Multiple songwriters, huge hits, the band internally torn apart by relationships.  Even the sonic experimentation, to some extent.


The solo careers that ensued when the band broke up.


Really, I think, it’s the death of John Lennon that prevents the comparison from going any farther.  Were John still alive today, I suspect that the Beatles might have gotten together around the time they put out all that lost material. 


But I digress.


My “no live albums” rule has had a few exceptions, and therein, I think, lies to key to the mystery.  I remember hearing that Fleetwood Mac was putting the classic band back together, and yeah, I caught the broadcast of the show that would become the live album The Dance.  It was fun to watch, but in the end I bought it for one track, and one track alone:


Lindsey Buckingham singing an absolutely insane version of Big Love, wherein he played the guitar in a manner that… I mean… honestly, I don’t know what he did, or how he did it.  But it sounds like there are at least two guitars in there, and maybe three. 


And here’s One Man Show, the live experience wherein you got to see (or in my case, hear) what happens when he does something like that to even more of his catalogue.


Music critics often like to talk about deep cuts, the songs that weren’t hits or singles, and often aren’t even fan favorites.  They are, instead, those songs that only the true fans, the ones who listen to their records again and again, eventually come to know and/or love.


In Lindsey’s case, that’s maybe half of his Fleetwood Mac output, and about 99% of his solo work.


I’m not sure exactly what I expected from the recording, but I do know this – Lindsey decided not to make it easy on people.


Your average big name performer likes to come out of the gate with you on his or her side.  So they start out with one big hit, maybe two, before moving into the new material, or the stuff that’s not as popular but it still pretty awesome.


(Heck, on The Dance, Lindsey and crew did FOUR big songs before they did a deep cut and a new song, back to back.)


Sometimes, a band will even leap out of the gate with something fast and fun, just to get the blood flowing.


Lindsey does none of this.


Granted, he doesn’t go full-on art.  He starts off with Cast Away Dreams, which is, in my estimation, one of his prettier late-period ballads. 


He then tries to ease into the harder stuff by doing a bang-up job on Bleed to Love Her, which translates surprisingly well from the big band version, mostly because he seems to be able to play two guitar parts at once. 


But it still wasn’t what I’d call a hit, more of a semi-deep cut from The Dance.  So I figured he’d whip out one “big” song before he started laying out the truly arty stuff.


But, no.  Instead we get Not Too Late, and Stephanie, and Come and Shut Us Down.


These are not terrible songs, but as I sat listening, I felt restless.  None of this was bad, truly.  It was all nicely performed.  But as a fan, I felt a kind of unease.  It was my big fear, as there was little to no reinvention going on here, just slightly more noisy versions of songs I’d already heard this way.


Go Insane was next on the list, and it works.  This is a slow, ballad-y version of the song, with little pauses in the picking and the strumming, for dramatic effect.  I think seeing it live onstage might give it an extra kick.  As a recording, it’s mostly just okay.


Next he moves to Never Going Back Again, one of the few songs off of Rumors that wasn’t a hit.  It’s a great, plucky little tune in its original format, but here, he makes the song wander along for twice its original length.


Big Love is, more or less the same live version I already knew, and I’m So Afraid, while still a great guitar solo song, isn’t quite as marvelous since Lindsey is clearly working with some kind of pedal effect or backing track to get his guitar riff to play over.


The show “concludes” with Go Your Own Way, which in my estimation would have been a much better starting point than an ending point.  And once again, he resorts to a backing track, and once again he plucks out pretty much the same solos we’ve always heard.  And the show ends.


Except, of course, there’s an encore.  And honestly, I wish the encore had been the show.


He first steps out with what was probably his biggest solo hit, a one-guitar version of Trouble that is, in my estimation, the superior of the original in just about every way.  Reduced to a single guitar and voice, it’s a high-wire act of guitar picking and strumming and lovely singing of a pretty tune. 


The show then finally closes with Seeds We Sow.  It’s not my favorite Buckingham track (I would have preferred Say Goodbye, off of Say You Will) but it closes the show nicely and, perhaps more to the point, the song is a lot more accessible than some of the rest of the recording.


I think Lindsey is probably happy with what he accomplished, going out on the road and doing his own thing, just him and the audience.  And in reality, I stand by my earlier thought – if I could have seen this live, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.


But my suspicion is that I still would have had some disappointments.  Gift of Screws, for example, contains two great up-tempo numbers (Gift of Screws and Love Runs Deeper), both of which would have livened up the show a bit.  There’s nothing here from Out of the Cradle, which is a perfect album with a lot of songs that are seemingly designed for solo performance (in particular, Street of Dreams).


And as a recording, there are some serious flaws.  Lindsey sometimes sings so quietly I wasn’t even aware the recording was still running… until I turned the volume up a hair, and then he started screaming.  I’m all for dynamics, but the mix could have used some tweaking.


I’m glad the recording exists, for guys like me who somehow missed that he was even on tour.  But with such an extensive catalogue, and so much talent, I can’t help but think that it could have been so much more.  A better mix.  A longer concert that didn’t ignore so much of Buckingham’s catalogue, or stuck strictly to his solo work.


In the end, I’m glad I own a few of the things here – in particular Trouble is now the song I want it to be.  I just wish there was more here that I loved.

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