If the name Lindsey Buckingham means nothing to you, and yet you are a human possessed of the ability to hear, I can just about guarantee that his unique voice and brilliant pop songcraft are in fact quite familiar to you. As a key songwriter and singer in Fleetwood Mac from 1975 on, Buckingham penned and sang some of the most recognizable and enduring tunes to grace the FM rock radio airwaves, including “Go Your Own Way,” “Second Hand News,” and “Never Going Back Again” (and that’s just from side 1 of Rumours).
Buckingham has had a relatively prolific solo career for decades – during Saturday’s concert he referred to it as the “small machine” to Fleetwood Mac’s “big machine” – probably the most recognizable product of which for the casual listener would be “Holiday Road,” the theme from the 1983 movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” That little pop gem aside, Buckingham’s solo career has generally been about experimenting as an artist and letting himself be creative without worrying about hits. He spoke on Saturday about the importance of having these two elements in his life, and it was plain that his work with the “small machine” brought him much joy. By all appearances the audience at the Neptune was here not to witness a slice of the big Fleetwood Mac machine, but to revel in the brilliance of the small machine on a small stage. And revel we did.
Lindsey Buckingham walked out on stage a few minutes past 9, embodying L.A. cool in tight dark jeans and boots, a black shirt, and black leather jacket that he never removed despite what must have been quite toasty conditions on stage. The packed house screamed and cheered, and Buckingham bowed and hopped around and cheered back, mugging and smiling as he strapped on his acoustic guitar – a routine he repeated between pretty much every song, soaking up the audience’s adulation as we soaked up his music. He opened with “Cast Away Dreams,” from his 2006 solo album Under the Skin, starting us off softly with lightly strummed chords and his distinctive voice – in its soft, raspy mode for the verses and opening up for the chorus’s high, full-throated melody.
Up next was “Bleed to Love Her,” a lesser known Fleetwood Mac song. Here Buckingham’s impeccable finger picking (he never once held a guitar pick for the entire night), commanding voice, and powerful dynamics set the tone for the evening. All that was on stage was a man with an acoustic guitar (and, OK, a handful of effects pedals and several amps), but with these simple tools he could bring the audience from hushed reverie to foot-stomping cheers within a single song, as he did again and again through the night. For a few songs later on in the night he was supported by some simple backing tracks, usually just percussion or a basic guitar part that could back him up as he launched into the occasional blistering guitar solo (and if the idea of a man in his 60s standing on stage belting out a guitar solo over backing tracks sounds somewhat lame to you I get that, but Lindsey Buckingham can pull it off in such a way as to make the most jaded and cynical among us drop our jaws and shake our heads in wonder).
But the heart of the evening was the man, his voice, and his guitar, and that’s really all we needed. He played a couple of familiar Fleetwood Mac songs – “Go Your Own Way,” his last pre-encore song, had the floor audience standing and cheering insanely, of course – and a couple of solo songs I recognized from his darkly beautiful 2011 album Seeds We Sow, but much of the set was composed of songs that were new to me, or only vaguely familiar. It didn’t matter, as the genius of these songs, his near perfect performance of them was enough to captivate and delight, perhaps even more so than a rehashing of a long-beloved song such as “Go Your Own Way.”
Introducing the song “Big Love” (originally slated for his third solo album, but ultimately released on the 1987 Fleetwood Mac album Tango in the Night), Buckingham said that this song embodied an important element of his musical philosophy, and what I think makes him such a compelling songwriter, producer, and performer: “Seek out what is essential, seek out the center, and discard what is inessential.” It’s a simple enough credo, but one that is very hard to get right, and one that that Lindsey Buckingham has mastered. As far as I could tell, everyone leaving the Neptune Theatre on Saturday had decided that, whether with the big machine or the small machine, Lindsey Buckingham was most definitely essential.