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In Lindsey Buckingham's own words as he stood alongside his Fleetwood Mac bandmates to accept MusiCares Person(s) of the Year Award at Radio City Music Hall, the band was "a group of chemistry." That chemistry of drama, anger, love, sadness and sense of family has created one of pop's most enduring musical canons, and as a steady stream of much younger artists took the stage — many of whom weren't even born when the band released Rumours, and some born even after the group's last album of original music was released — it became clear that Fleetwood Mac is far from losing their touch.
After a few speeches from MusiCares executives and an auction that saw a bidder with $170,000 to spare buy a bound copy of handwritten and autographed Rumours lyrics, Imagine Dragons kicked off the night with "Big Love." It was the first perfect song pairing: the viscerality of Buckingham' Tango In the Night contribution was captured by singer Dan Reynolds, who is known to handle a bit of unhinged, raspy screaming on a song's chorus.
Since this was the first year in MusiCares' history that the organization honored a full band instead of a solo artist for their Person of the Year Award, they made sure to include several bands like Imagine Dragons to represent that chemistry Buckingham honed in on during their acceptance speeches towards the end of the night. It made for some awkward transitions as hordes of black-clad stage-hands, roadies and music techs pounced on the darkened stages to change around the instrument set-ups for each act.
A bonus to this was video packages about MusiCares' mission to aid struggling musicians that became more seamlessly streamed throughout the night. Other packages took a trip down memory lane of past events, showing clips from Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Tom Petty's tribute shows, to name a few. Appropriately, the late Petty received plenty of applause when he appeared on screen, and his presence was never lost throughout the night given his long friendship with honoree Stevie Nicks and the fact that his Person of the Year acceptance was just last year.
The night carried on with big hits and tepid misses. Strong vocalists like Brandi Carlile and Alison Krauss opted for Christine McVie-led tunes that allowed them to show off their chops and even reinvent those classics given McVie's typically softer approach to singing. Portugal. The Man was the second full band to take the stage and fell flat while attempting "I'm So Afraid," a big Buckingham number filled with drama and anger that they met with an uninspiring delivery. Juanes followed them and immediately eclipsed with a joyful, fresh take on the Eighties tune "Hold Me." The Colombian rock star was also a welcome respite from the blinding whiteness of the artists booked for the show.
From there, Este Haim did the best Nicks impression of her sisters while belting "Gypsy" and Keith Urban shredded like no other while ripping through his "Second Hand News" guitar solo. Lorde, the night's youngest artist and only Album of the Year nominee, interpreted "Silver Springs," a song she has cited as a big influence on Melodrama. She harnessed the anger, passion and, well, melodrama of Nicks' Rumours B-side perfectly, but her vocals were disappointingly lost during the song's iconic bridge where her voice was drowned by the chorus of soulful back-up singers. Still, she brought it home at the end with a tender delivery of the song's final few lines.
Miley Cyrus and Jared Leto had the exact opposite problem of Lorde, with both over-singing their covers. Cyrus was a particularly perfect match for "Landslide," a song that had previously struck chords with alt-rockers the Smashing Pumpkins as well as country trio the Dixie Chicks. She made the song feel like a Cyrus original with her gravelly twang and confidence, but her forced shouting of a few lines in the song's middle were too much when she was already doing just enough. Little Big Town got it just right, though, with a perfectly subdued delivery of "Dreams" that still showed off Karen Fairchild's range without overstepping the intimacy of the song.
The tribute wrapped after nearly two hours, when surprise guest Bill Clinton took to the stage to pay his respects to the band responsible for his presidential campaign song in 1992. He notably used it at the DNC that year and after he won, he convinced the band to reunite and perform it at his inaugural ball. It's become a part of his life and public image, with the former president joking that it has been played more for him than "Hail to the Chief."
Clinton also told the story about how that song came to represent him: The idea was from a "bright-eyed 19-year-old" who drove Clinton to a college appearance when he was still the Governor of Arkansas. That young man asked Clinton if he was going to run (the future President was still undecided), and then he proceeded to ask him to use "Don't Stop" by playing the cassette in his car as they finished their drive. It was a tender moment, and it so seamlessly spoke to the multi-generational appeal of Fleetwood Mac that has become so prevalent over the last couple decades.
Fleetwood Mac's acceptance speeches were peak Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood kept it simple and diplomatic as he thanked the organizers and MusiCares. Christine McVie kept it short and emotional as she recalled her 15-year hiatus before finally returning to the band to tour in recent years. Buckingham spoke on the aforementioned "chemistry" and harked back to one of the night's hosts calling the band a "dysfunctional family," noting that that description is true. Nicks was the final speaker, and naturally she took the longest (Fleetwood and Christine McVie jokingly waltzed towards the end of Nicks' time at the podium while Buckingham feigned loving, playful annoyance).
The singer spoke of the many generations that love the band, thanking, specifically, the people who were even older than them when the classic line-up came to exist. She got teary-eyed as she brought up her broken heart over Tom Petty's death, dedicating her performance to her old friend. Later, she quoted Harry Styles, who had asked if she was nervous while they were backstage before the show. She made a point to note that she's always nervous and that "those butterflies" are what make the magic on-stage.
Magic was aplenty when the band finally did perform. Styles introduced them and joined the group to harmonize on "The Chain." Buckingham and Nicks were as spritely as ever as they bounced around the stage with a guitar and tambourine, respectively, in hand. McVie's "Little Lies" sounded impeccable, her voice seemingly unchanged and as pitch-perfect since she last recorded with the group. "Tusk" was a particularly jaunty moment, with McVie on accordion as she and Nicks danced together during Buckingham's solo.
The highlight of the entire night was Nicks' ten-minute "Gold Dust Woman." In a sparkly gold shawl the singer was a captivating, bewitching presence, staring down the barrel of the camera that showed the band on two screens that flanked the stage. She flipped her hair, twirled and cast a spell on the entire room. She became the dragon, the storm and the wind she always promised to be while reminding us that there are very few who can match her presence and voice.
"Go Your Own Way" wrapped up the night, and the band looked as giddy as if they were a new artist playing their first packed arena. The triumphant final moment was a good reminder of the chemistry we all know, that magical, tempestuous relationship the band has with one another that is often mimicked but cannot properly be captured by anyone else. As Bill Clinton noted, the Fleetwood Mac's music will certainly live on long after all of us are gone.
Fleetwood Mac Tribute Set List:
"Big Love" (Imagine Dragons)
"Say You Love Me" (Brandi Carlile)
"I'm So Afraid" (Portugal. The Man)
"Hold Me" (Juanes)
"Songbird" (Alison Krauss)
"Second Hand News" (Keith Urban)
"Silver Springs" (Lorde)
"Dreams" (Little Big Town)
"Never Going Back Again" (Jared Leto)
"Landslide" (Miley Cyrus)
"Don't Stop" (Zac Brown Band)
Fleetwood Mac Set List:
"The Chain" (Feat. Harry Styles)
"Gold Dust Woman"
"Go Your Own Way"