LIFE AFTER MAC : At the Coach House, Lindsey Buckingham Will Be Playing His First Concert Since His Old Band Broke Up
Lindsey Buckingham is scheduled to lose his virginity tonight at 8 in front of 500 people. He says he isn’t nervous.
Before defenders of the public virtue take alarm, it should be noted that Buckingham’s rite of passage, while it may involve some loud noises and sweating, will be purely musical.
At 42, Buckingham is no blushing bride in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. To the contrary, he is a tremendously savvy pop-rock craftsman whose contributions as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and, most crucially, as an arranger and recording studio auteur were indispensable in transforming Fleetwood Mac from a dogged band of hard-luck barnstormers to a paragon of pop success. This is one guy who chased after musical fame and fortune and found out what it was like to go all the way.
However, he has never played a show in which he had to go all the way on his own. That will change at the Coach House tonight, when he will play the first concert of his life in which he’ll be leading a band by himself (he and the band will be back again Friday).
What will be different? No more doing other people’s material, for one thing. No more sharing the singing and the spotlight with a dizzily twirling sprite and a piano-plinking songbird. No more having the band named after the drummer and the bass player. Finally, Buckingham, who has put together a nine-member group of unknowns, gets to play a concert that can go all his own way.
“I’m fairly confident about it,” he said over the phone recently from his house in Bel-Air. “I always felt much of the high-energy stuff in the Fleetwood Mac shows was carried by my tunes,” so he feels there’s no reason to worry about being able to carry his own show.
He has performed his own material live on television, including appearances in recent months on the David Letterman and Jay Leno shows to promote his current album, “Out of the Cradle.” But those were performances involving just one or two songs, not an entire concert. In fact, it has been 10 years since Buckingham played a full concert of any sort. That was in 1982, during his last tour with Fleetwood Mac. It was his unwillingness to tour after Mac’s 1987 release, “Tango in the Night,” that led to his departure after 12 years with the band.
During the last 10 years, he has been on stage in front of concert audiences just three times, and then only for cameo appearances. In 1986, he played a short set at the Long Beach Arena during an environmental benefit organized by Don Henley. In December, 1990, when the post-Buckingham lineup of Fleetwood Mac played two farewell concerts at the Forum in Inglewood, he did a pair of brief guest spots.
Much of the intervening time he has spent in his recording studio at home. You can see him there on the cover of his album, a figure in silhouette, sitting alone with a tape machine and a mixing board.
He says he sat in that room for three years making “Out of the Cradle,” singing every vocal part and playing virtually all the instruments.
“You spend three years socked away playing this stuff yourself--it was cathartic, but hermetically sealed. It was like being locked away in a monastery for a while, but it was necessary to let things rise to the surface. It had a purpose behind it"--namely, to let Buckingham find his creative balance apart from Fleetwood Mac.
“It’s ironic that someone who has been (making records) this long would call an album ‘Out of the Cradle,’ ” he said, but “Fleetwood Mac was a cradled situation, an atmosphere that made you adept at stoking the money-making machine. It didn’t reinforce you to grow as a person. In some ways, it almost encouraged you not to.
“The whole thing is geared up to ‘If (a musical formula) works, run it into the ground.’ ” Perhaps not the most satisfying arrangement for an ambitious artist, but, as Buckingham acknowledges, “it’s great for the notoriety and creative freedom and money.”
Few people in any line of work would walk away easily from fringe benefits like those. Buckingham’s solution while reaping them with Fleetwood Mac was to exercise what he calls the “left side” of his creativity--the more experimental part--while harnessing the “right side” for the hit-making that Fleetwood Mac required.
His impatience with retracing already-covered ground became apparent on Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double-album “Tusk” which, due largely to his influence, was a sharp departure from the much-beloved “Rumours,” the 1977 release that had been one of the hottest-selling rock records of all time. “Tusk” wasn’t exactly a commercial failure, but its tinkering with the sleek sound established with “Rumours” and “Fleetwood Mac,” the album in 1975 that was Buckingham’s first with the band, led to a steep drop in sales.
“When it became clear (‘Tusk’) was not going to sell another 16 million copies,” he recalled, “there was kind of a backlash that said, ‘Lindsey, you’re not going to do this in the group any more.’ ”
His answer was to make albums of his own between Fleetwood Mac records. “Law and Order” (1981) featured an almost campy streak of musical humor that never would have worked in Fleetwood Mac, and “Go Insane” (1984) was an indulgent but masterful display of studio wizardry.
He started work on a third album but wound up folding it into one last album with Fleetwood Mac, “Tango in the Night.” But when “Tango” was completed and tour plans were underway, he decided he couldn’t face another round of live shows with the band, and he quit.
“It wasn’t just the (prospect of) touring. It was the whole circus. It just wasn’t making sense any more.”
“Soul Drifter,” a track from “Out of the Cradle” that has just been released as a video, reflects Buckingham’s feelings during his last days with Fleetwood Mac:
I’m a soul drifter, and I’m out of this town.
Ain’t no use hangin’ ‘round, you see . . .
I’m a soul lifter, and it’s out of my hands,
So it’s off to other lands, you see.
“I wrote that while (Fleetwood Mac) was here at my house, where we did most of the work on ‘Tango.’ The band was in the garage, mixing the album, and I was in my bedroom, writing that song.”
In any case, having left the cradle of Fleetwood Mac, he quickly bundled himself away in another sort of cradle: his home recording studio.
Some might argue that it’s a tad unhealthy to spend years ensconced virtually alone in a studio (Buckingham did have the help of Richard Dashut, his friend and longtime record-producing partner). One can point to Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, two record-production geniuses who wound up cutting themselves off entirely from any semblance of normal relation to the world.
And, the argument might continue, even if the studio hermit maintains balance in his personal life, he is sacrificing the highest and purest reward of music-making, the experience of interaction and community that comes with playing with other musicians, for other people.
Buckingham doesn’t buy it.
“That’s a preconception of what music is, and I don’t think it necessarily holds water,” he said. “I’m aware that I’m a studio rat, and I’m aware that a lot I have to offer is tied in to a studio situation. I perceive the recording studio as just another musical instrument, a canvas on which you can paint. It depends on your point of view, if you see that as being suspect.”
However, he will allow that a case of recording studio cabin fever is now “part of the reason for going on the road,” and that “it’s going to be psychologically (beneficial) for me to be out in external situations.”
To that end, he said, he hasn’t set foot in his home recording studio since finishing “Out of the Cradle.” Instead, he has devoted the past few months to assembling his new band.
One thing he didn’t want to do, he said, was have people who make their living as touring pros. Rather, he wanted people “who have a slightly more detached view of the whole thing. I went through quite a bit of auditioning to find the right combination, and it had as much to do with personality as chops,” that is, technical expertise.
“I wanted to try a concept, with lots of guitars” and an unconventional rhythm approach. The result is a band with four guitarists in addition to Buckingham himself, and three percussionists, not one of whom plays on a conventional full-size trap-drum kit. Also on hand are a bassist, and a keyboards player whose palette of prepackaged samples includes some of the multilayered vocal textures that distinguish Buckingham’s studio sound and can’t be duplicated in real time.
“There were times in Fleetwood Mac,” he recalled, “when I experienced a sense of not being able to do something as well as it could be done (in concert), because it was your basic four-piece (instrumental) unit"--which is why he made the first band of his post-Mac career your not-so-basic 10-piece unit.
Two of the guitarists are women. “You would think I’d had enough girls by now,” he said, a joking reference to the Fleetwood Mac lineup that featured Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. But he knows he needs female voices to get that old harmony sound for the Fleetwood Mac oldies he intends to play. “I’m still doing some of my better-known things,” he said. “It would be a mistake not to, because people want to hear that.”
With the Coach House shows, “we’re establishing contact with an audience . . . . It’s kind of a preparation for a TV thing we’re going to be doing in Chicago,” a taping Dec. 18 for a new series called “Center Stage,” a joint production of VH-1 and PBS, set to debut next spring that will feature live concerts before a studio audience, along the lines of “MTV Unplugged.”
Buckingham said he plans a 20- to 30-city national tour of theater-size venues starting in February. If he gets lucky, the tour will give a needed jump-start to “Out of the Cradle.” Released about six months ago, it stalled in August at No. 128, then quickly dropped off the Billboard chart. “It has been slow. I think we’ve done about 200,000 (in sales), which is just OK.”
As he prepares to tour, though, he said he is looking forward to other things besides jacking up sales figures.
“A band situation and touring starts off as a support mechanism (to push an album), but this (band) has taken on such a life of its own, it’s creating so much juice, that in some ways I’ve let go of the album.”
While Buckingham moves forward with his career, Fleetwood Mac fans can decide whether to shell out for a newly released boxed set retrospective, “25 Years: The Chain.”
His involvement in preparing the collection “was not much at all,” Buckingham said. “I helped Richard Dashut produce a new song for Stevie (‘Paper Doll,’ on which Buckingham plays some guitar). There also were a couple of rare things of mine that had not seen the light of day that I had to put my stamp of approval on.”
He said he was glad, though, that work on the boxed set allowed him to spend some time with Mick Fleetwood, the drummer and Fleetwood Mac co-founder whose book two years ago, “Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac,” didn’t always paint Buckingham in the most favorable light.
“There’s something in it about me slapping Stevie, which never happened,” Buckingham said, referring to Fleetwood’s account of a final blow-up when Buckingham announced he was quitting the band and wouldn’t be touring to support “Tango in the Night.” Also, Buckingham said, “there’s a lot of hard-line interpretation of things. Mick was understating my contributions, which came from some bitterness he had.”
Buckingham says the bitterness is resolved now on both sides.
“When I saw him during the course of putting the boxed set together, he was extremely apologetic about the book in general. He realizes now it was hurtful. His personal life is doing OK now, and it was nice to see him. There was a nice sense of closure.”