Hartford Courant (12/28/1980), Fleetwood Live Lacks Luster
Fleetwood Live Lacks Luster
By Henry McNulty
Dec. 28, 1980
It’s time again to list the Commandments for releasing “live” record albums. There are only seven of them, not 10, but here they are.
1. Thou shalt strive for excellent recording quality, even if thou dost record a live performance. The exception is a recording of historical significance, such as “Beatles at the Star Club, Hamburg.”
2. Thou shalt give the feeling of a live performance without too much obtrusive crowd noise.
3. Thou shalt not merely give a rehash of old hits.
4. Thou shalt avoid wasting vinyl on prolonged periods of applause (we know the audience loved the show).
5. Similarly, thou shalt not spend too much recording time thanking the crowd for applauding (“Thank you” … “Golly, thank you” … “No, really—thank you” … “Oh gosh, you’re too much”).
6. Thou shalt not extend songs with meaningless solos consisting mostly of one guitar chord.
7. Most of all, thou shalt have a good reason for releasing a live album. The record should stand on its own merits. “We’ve never done a live record” or “We need an LP for Christmas” are not good reasons.
Having said that, it’s now time to look at “Fleetwood Mac Live,” a double-record set that’s just out. As far following the Seven Commandments, the record scores thusly: 1 through 5, pass; 6 & 7, fail.
Technically, the record is tops—which, if nothing else, shows how far mobile recording studios have come in the last few years. And since the 18 cuts on the two records were selected from recordings made at some 117 separate performances over 11 months, we can safely assume that the Macs picked the very best renditions of their material.
The songs were recorded in a number of different places—from Tokyo to Wichita, from London to Cleveland, from Tucson to Paris. But in the end, the audiences sound more or less the same: enthusiastic but not overbearing.
A major problem with “Fleetwood Mac Live” is that the quintet is apparently much more at home in the recording studio than on stage. The studio recordings, especially “Tusk,” are masterpieces of delicacy & subtlety, & they sound better with every listening. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the live performances. At best, some songs are merely as good as the previously released versions; at worst, they are a waste of time.
“Over My Head,” for example, which is one of the better live tracks, lacks any of the vocal delights of the original. It is slightly more rocking than the studio version & has a fine guitar part by Lindsey Buckingham, but overall it is a disappointment. “Rhiannon” is worse, a typically undistinguished performance of a basically good tune, with an overlong guitar/vocal duet used for aural filler at the end.
But nothing is as abysmal as “Not That Funny,” an offbeat, angry tune that worked quite well on the “Tusk” LP but hits zero here. Buckingham, in a self-indulgent fit, screams the lyrics in an off-key wail that finally cracks his voice. One of the album’s longest entries, “Not That Funny,” sad to say, is not that short, either.
Other songs simply dissolve when performed live. “Landslide,” for example, displays all the worst features of Stevie Nicks’ somewhat meandering vocal style. “Never Going Back Again” is given a slow, moody treatment, & loses the irony generated in the studio version in which a sad song is given an upbeat performance.
Some material is, shall we say, OK. “Sara” is neither better nor worse when performed live. “Farmer’s Daughter,” a Brian Wilson tune, is competently sung & seems oddly suited to Fleetwood Mac’s talents.
Of the 18 songs on the LP, exactly half will be instantly familiar to most fans. “Monday Morning,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way” & “Don’t Stop.” The other nine are not as well known, & it is those songs the provide the brightest moments.
Of the less-familiar cuts, two of the best are “Fireflies” & “Don’t Let Me Down Again.” The former is an uptempo charmer by Stevie Nicks, performed with verve & class; the latter is Buckingham’s most worthwhile contribution to the album, aside from his always competent guitar.
The overall problem with “Fleetwood Mac Live” is that it is basically not needed. If the band is worth catching in live performance, it is doubtless for reasons of showmanship, not musical excellence. The Macs, who comprise the most popular band of the late ‘70s, have put out some fine music. Hearing it performed from a concert stage does little for the listener.
Contributed by David
1980-12-28 Number of views: