Review: Lindsey Buckingham Breaks Free

By Bradley Bambarger <2006>

Fleetwood Mac made Lindsey Buckingham rich and famous, or perhaps it was he — as studio whiz and perfectionist driving force — who made a journeyman blues band a rich and famous pop group. But for all the rewards, the singer/guitarist could seem constricted by the Mac’s soap opera, his artistic ambitions bound in the bubble of money and relationships.

At Manhattan’s Town Hall, Buckingham howled with the delight of a free man, seeming far younger than his 57 years as he unveiled songs from a new solo album and cherry-picked highlights from his back pages. While Fleetwood Mac’s silver linings often had a darker cloud when he was concerned, Buckingham’s music can take on a new edge and abandon in the flesh.

That new disc — Under the Skin, his first solo effort in 10 years and only the fourth in a fitful non-Mac career — features Buckingham’s most intimate work, mostly acoustic songs recorded at home. He noted to an adoring crowd that the album is about “growing up.” Certainly, it takes a kind of maturity to put forth “Not Too Late,” a manifesto of naked artistic ego that led off the show as it does the album.

Driving the song with the ornate, self-taught finger-picking that made him one of rock’s more distinctive guitarists, Buckingham sang of “feeling unseen . . . like I’m living somebody else’s dream.” Such verses could sound like embarrassing whines coming from someone of his station, but the mix of middle-aged fragility and fresh purpose in the refrain of “it’s not too late” had the disarming sound of someone whistling in the dark.

Buckingham was joined by a stylish three-piece band for the Rumors kickoff track “Second Hand News.” Even if listeners missed the harmonies of Stevie Nicks, the rollicking tempo and group’s male bonding brought a helpless grin to Buckingham’s face. And that face is as handsome as ever; if the Californian didn’t make a deal with the devil for his talent, he surely did for his looks.

Alone onstage again, Buckingham played an ultra-intense version of the latter-day Mac’s “Big Love,” his keening vocals as emotionally unhinged as those of any punk singer. He also gave his ’80s rococo’n’roll hit “Go Insane” — more romance as psychodrama — the definitive treatment. With its slow-tolling guitar figure and poetic world-weariness, the song almost felt like it could’ve been by an Elizabethan troubadour; but at the climax, Buckingham strummed furiously and yowled at the moon, “I call her name, she’s a lot like you.”

Buckingham is a contented family man these days, and such lovely new songs as the Under the Skin title track reflect intimacy without mawkishness. But he obviously had a great time channeling those old demons. Back alongside the band, he sang the primal “I’m So Afraid” sotto voce before exploding his early Mac song with an epic electric solo that had him pummeling the fret board as if even his expensive custom guitar couldn’t produce all the sound in his head.

From Tusk, Buckingham aired a quick-step rendition of “I Know I’m Not Wrong” that came closer to realizing his new-wave vision than did the version with Fleetwood Mac. After ripping through his timeless breakup song “Go Your Own Way,” Buckingham coerced the band into taking a shouted encore request. They worked up an arrangement of the plaintive Tusk tune “Save Me a Place” on the spot. It was the sort of free-minded spontaneity one couldn’t imagine latter-day Fleetwood Mac quite pulling off, with Buckingham’s look of surprise and delight suggesting as much.

(Originally published in the October 8, 2006 issue of The Star-Ledger of New Jersey.)

Longtime music journalist, from Billboard to Gramophone to DownBeat to, etc. Founder/curator of the Sound It Out jazz concert series in New York City.

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