Pop & Hiss
Review

At Fleetwood Mac Fest, a complicated band is celebrated simply

Shimmering pop tunes, bluesy rock stomps and folky intimations of the occult: Every aspect of Fleetwood Mac’s multifaceted sound was represented when more than two dozen artists -- including Courtney Love, Mark Ronson and Carly Rae Jepsen -- gathered Tuesday at the Fonda Theatre to pay tribute to one of music’s most famously complicated acts.

The occasion was opening night of Fleetwood Mac Fest, a two-part celebration presented by the Best Fest organization, which has put on similar events honoring classic-rock heroes like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones. Ticket proceeds went to Sweet Relief and the Sweet Stuff, charity groups dedicated to helping musicians with health problems.

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Welcoming the audience, organizer Austin Scaggs, who played bass in the show’s 10-piece house band, said proudly that he’d assembled more women than at other Best Fest gigs, thanks to the lure of Fleetwood Mac’s two female songwriters, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.

And, indeed, the concert had an encouraging sprawl of voices and approaches that reflected the veteran group’s wide appeal (not to mention its recent resurgence as a hipster touchstone).

But the diversity of the lineup, which also included Joanna Newsom and Doyle Bramhall II, made something else clear too: how few artists are capable of embodying Fleetwood Mac’s internal contradictions on their own.

Several performers gave it a try. Barefoot in a silky purple dress, Love summoned a Nicks-like blend of triumph and destruction in “Silver Springs,” which she introduced, super-fan-style, as a B-side from the band’s late-’70s smash “Rumours.” The young L.A. band Phases, with former members of Phantom Planet and Rilo Kiley, ventured deep inside the wistful funk of “Everywhere”; it sounded totally modern.

And Juliette Lewis, wearing a skintight yellow bodysuit, was somehow both funny and scary at once as she prowled the stage, whipping her long hair in time to Nicks’ commanding solo hit “Stand Back.” (Lewis wasn’t the only moonlighting actor on the bill; Danny Masterson strapped on a guitar for “Second Hand News,” while Will Forte played Petty to Karen Elson’s Nicks in a crunchy rendition of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”)

Yet most artists kept to just a single strand of Fleetwood Mac’s tightly braided DNA. For “World Turning,” Elvis Perkins used a needling guitar riff to emphasize the nervy obsession in Lindsey Buckingham’s songwriting. Bramhall looked back faithfully to the band’s early blues-rock days with Peter Green in “Black Magic Woman.”

And Perry Farrell and his wife, Etty, went full Hollywood-mystic in “Gold Dust Woman”; Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather did much the same in “Dreams,” which also had Ronson pulling ghostly countermelodies from his electric guitar. Accompanying herself on piano, Newsom explored Fleetwood Mac’s haunted side too in “Beautiful Child,” the droning ballad from “Tusk.”

At its least ambitious, Tuesday’s tribute felt like little more than celebrity karaoke, as during Jepsen’s cheerful but forgettable “Hold Me” and a propulsive “Go Your Own Way” sung by Sarah Silverman.

There were also embarrassments: I can’t recall hearing a shakier “Landslide” than the one performed here by the singer Mereki and the guitarist Dhani Harrison, whose late father,  George, was toasted with a Best Fest at the Fonda in 2014.

But even when the performances were shallow, the songs reminded you of Fleetwood Mac’s enduring depth. Lucky for us, the real thing is still around.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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