One thing that Minnesota does better than just about anybody is outdoor music. When the opportunity to see former Fleetwood Mac frontman Lindsey Buckingham came, it was indoors. That took a bit of mental adjustment. Particularly when headed for an auditorium. In a casino! But as the rain came down and the first chills of autumn fell with the daylight, I figured it was all for the best. After all, I’d never set foot in the Mystic Showroom. I approached the whole thing with a let’s give it a go kind of attitude. Always up for a pleasant surprise!
Mystic Lake seems like it’s always jammed. I suspect even more so on Friday or Saturday nights. It was a long, disorienting slog through the casino. I found myself wondering how many people were even aware that one of rock music’s icons was playing there that night. Not a Dad Rock band made up of non original members playing the oldies. I mean icon as in living, breathing T Rex. Lindsey Buckingham has climbed to heights of musical fame and fortune few have achieved.
The Mystic Showroom is beautiful. Clean, great sight lines, roomy seats and plenty of leg room. Don’t you just hate sitting near an aisle in an auditorium with a late arriving crowd? Forcing you up and down as you try to focus on the stage? I truly appreciated the fact that those people had room to slide on by without disruption.
Casinos run shows like European railroads run trains. If it says 8pm, it’s 8pm. If they say wrap at 10:30pm, that’s it. After all, it’s a fair trade. They’ll give you a big name band/artist at a great price. But they want you back out into the casino with plenty of evening left. As somebody who spends most of his time in clubs, I’m more comfortable with a headliner going on at 10:30, as opposed to calling it a wrap. But I’m sure not adverse to the comfort and convenience.
At 8 straight up, 19 year old, New West recording artist Sammy Brue walked onto that huge stage with an acoustic guitar. All I knew about him was what I’d read. Recorded his first album at age 15. Championed by the likes of Justin Townes Earle and Lucinda Williams. A “wunderkind” according to Rolling Stone.
Truth be told, opening bands are often an exercise in patience. It’s a new label mate the company is trying to push. It’s somebody who knows somebody who helped them land that opening gig. But sometimes, it’s more about “you gotta see this kid!” The future is sitting right in front of you. And you know it. That’s the case with Sammy Brue.
It is really hard to write great music; particularly lyrically elegant and edgy. It’s really hard to occupy an entire stage and fill a large space with just your acoustic guitar. Pull that off as a teenager? That’s something special.
I was sitting beside a couple from St Cloud. They saw me taking notes throughout the set. Figured I was there to write about it. When I was asked: “Well, did he pass? What did you think?”, I simply replied: “He didn’t play long enough!”
Brue ripped through a 25 minute, 7 song gem of a set. He banged that guitar like he’d been busking for decades. He showed an emotional range and maturity that said he wasn’t awestruck by the setting. Sammy was just doing what Sammy does. Bang out smart songs with authenticity and a refreshing modesty.
I enjoyed each number but the closing number Teenage Mayhem took the cake. Like a full band roaring from the stage. Sammy Brue can flat bring it. Mark my words, if he can dodge the many temptations of rock and roll on the road, we’ll be hearing more from him. I intend to be there to witness.
Fifteen minutes later (when was the last time you saw bands flip the stage in 15 minutes?) Lindsey Buckingham and band strode onto the stage. The crowd rose and it was obvious this was going to be a bit of a love fest. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time somebody yelled: “I love you, Lindsey!”, I’d have had enough to spend hours on the casino floor. I mean, I get the adoration thing. But it still kind of freaks me out when 60 something year old dudes are the ones professing their affection.
I called Buckingham a T Rex. He’s a bonafide star. One can debate into the wee hours what he meant to Fleetwood Mac. No doubt the triumvirate of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and the legendary Christine Perfect had established a level of big time success. Fans who came to the band in the late 70s may not have fully appreciated who that band was when it belonged to lead guitar player/frontman Peter Green. A true blues powerhouse. When Green left, they had the pick of the litter. They reached out to Buckingham. They needed a vocalist, lead guitar and writer. The deal was cut. Lindsey Buckingham would step into a leading role with Fleetwood Mac as long as he could bring his partner, Stevie Nicks, with him. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The sixty four million dollar question is whether the other band members gave this musician his platform? Or did he re-orient that band and guide them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Chicken or the egg?
So what’s with Buckingham out on the road with his own band? It’s not that his former band retired. Or people died. They fell out. He was working for the folks who owned the brand. They fired him. The why isn’t important here. From where I sit, the man was issued an enormous challenge. A challenge that also seems a great opportunity. Over the next 90 minutes, Buckingham proved he’s still got miles to go before he decides to hang it up. The material he featured from an album due out later this month proved it.
Let’s get this out of the way. I dig rock and roll music and I dig great guitar playing. The electric guitar has been the nexus of live music ever since Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry redefined the genre. The great ones aren’t the fastest. They aren’t the most soulful, soothing or threatening. They’re the most distinctive. Go back and listen to the guitar work on those chart busting Fleetwood Mac albums and you’ll hear it. That chimy, clean, finger picked style is all Buckingham. As the show went on, I found myself thinking of Joe Walsh or David Gilmour. Within a couple notes, you know exactly to whom you’re listening.
The set included songs from a couple earlier albums. I recognized some which found their way onto the airwaves. Songs like the 1981 single Trouble from his debut solo album Law and Order. The half dozen or so he offered from the new album spanned a bewildering range. Tended a bit more toward the introspective and heartfelt. The common thread was his guitar. Lindsey Buckingham is a flat out monster with a guitar in his hands. He was a joy to watch and hear.
The first question I was asked on the ride home was the obvious one. Did he play Fleetwood Mac hits? I think I’ll rephrase the question into a format I think he might more appreciate. Did he play Lindsey Buckingham songs that Fleetwood Mac used on the rocket ride to the stratosphere? Of course he did!
I always find myself wondering about the writer doing his or her version of the hit song that another band recorded. Kind of like Pete Townshend playing Who songs. It’s different obviously. But it sure works. It takes a song you know by heart and breathes new life into it. That was the case with Never Going Back Again from Rumours. Given his reflections on how hard it was to leave Fleetwood Mac, Covid taking bands off the road and the challenges getting his new album ready to go, the chorus seemed apropos. “Been down one time. Been down two times. Been down three times. I’m never going back again!”
Second Hand News and Go Your Own Way brought the audience to its feet. Recognizable yet subtly reworked. A bit harder, edgier and more geared to let his guitar fire laser lines around the space. I wrote a note that simply said: a great song is a great song regardless of who does it. (Okay, there aren’t more than half a dozen players on the planet who should do Voodoo Child. But the fact remains, great songs sing themselves). Buckingham has given us some of the most effective compositions to walk the line between Pop and unadulterated rock that have ever been penned.
For me, the knockout punch of the evening was Tusk. How on earth are you going to pull off Tusk with a five piece band? Without the USC Marching Band to turn it into perhaps the Biggest pop hit in history. Big as in literal. Like in 150 musicians going at it. Well, you turn it up. You let your synth become a brass band. You turn your world class drummer loose with a couple sledgehammers. And you decide to add some wicked guitar lines. I’ll remember that one for a long time.
Lindsey Buckingham isn’t out there playing all the oldies. The man is still on a musical journey. There may be a lot of miles on the tires but the engine is running on all cylinders. Next time he hits the road, I’ll be there. And I’ll have friends in tow.
If there’s a single, Covid silver lining, it’s that musicians are hungry. There’s the old adage: Players got to play! If you’re somebody who felt gutted when live music disappeared, imagine the player. All of us got to go back to work and adjust our lives. Musicians were left wandering in the desert. Now they’re home again. You’ll feel the rediscovered passion coming from the stage in waves. I heard it tonight a couple times when Buckingham howled with delight after a particularly great tune.
So go to a show. See somebody you’ve been hearing about. If not someone new, someone in a different configuration. Like Lindsey Buckingham sans Fleetwood Mac. Avoid the McDonalds music menu! Where you order what you know; there won’t be any crude surprises. (Okay, I admit I hit the Drive Thru on the way home). Remember it’s those surprises that make live music so satisfying. What a wonderful surprise at Mystic tonight.