I’ve always been rather scared of writing reviews, especially music reviews. As opinionated as I am, and as much as I love good music, I’m always scared that someone will turn round and ask incredulously: “You thought what?!” upon reading my thoughts pertaining to a gig (or, for that matter, a book, film or a favourite restaurant). I’m all too aware that enjoyment of music is subjective and that there will always be someone itching to disagree with everything I write.
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good debate. Where music is concerned, I will always choose a person with an opposing (wrong) opinion over the weirdo with no opinion. Is there anything more depressing than the person who says “I don’t really like music” or “I like all music, a bit of everything really”? Clearly there are plenty of far more depressing things, but the person whose favourite album is a Now compilation, or a ‘best of’ album, or – worst of all – the soundtrack from a musical, is definitely up there. Clearly I have amazing musical taste, but give me the music-lover with rubbish taste and an opinion over the wishy-washy-ness of that person who claims to like all music (yet, weirdly, even with this massively eclectic range to choose from, can’t actually name a single band that they like…).
I appear to have veered off course a little… As I was saying, I’ve always shied away from writing about gigs I’ve attended. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I wrote about gigs a while back:
That, however, was a more generalised rant. Last week, for the first time since I’ve been documenting my grievances, I decided to write about a specific gig that I attended… Being the queen of procrastination, it’s taken me until tonight to actually get typing, but here goes…
Fleetwood Mac: On with the Show
I can’t emphasise enough just how excited I was about this gig. I think it’s fair to say that my expectations and anticipation levels were as high as the time I procured my first Neil Young or Bob Dylan ticket, the year Bowie was meant to be headlining T in the Park, or the time my sister and I decided to go and see Blondie.
As is increasingly (and depressingly) the case with bands who have been blessed with the gift of longevity, tickets went onsale months ago, were ridiculously priced and rapidly sold out. This being the situation, my friend and I snapped up tickets about 8 months ago, paid a small fortune, and couldn’t even get seats together. None of this remotely dampened our enthusiasm and since autumn last year, our anticipation had been building…
Therein lies the problem, I do believe… Some of the best gigs I have ever been lucky enough to attend have happened by chance or by happy accident: I have been offered a ticket at the last minute; have decided to go on a whim; have stumbled upon an unknown band on a small stage at a festival; or have allowed myself to be grudgingly dragged along to keep a friend company. What all these situations have in common is low expectation. On Thursday night, I’m sad to say that the reality did not live up to the massively high expectations that I had built up.
The first naïve assumption I had was that the O2 was ‘probably a wee bit bigger than the SECC’… As I walked through the door (entrance number 46 if memory serves correctly) and the wave of vertigo hit me, I realised just how wrong I was. I also realised that my blasé reckoning that we’d be able to ‘just stand together in the aisle or something’ was massively unfounded. Instead, I was seated next to a woman who managed to clap out of time for the duration of the show (no mean feat). Incidentally, for those of you who enjoy a statistic, the capacity of the old SECC is a mere 3000, compared to the 20000 music fans that the O2 can hold. And I’m an idiot for not doing my research beforehand.
I should probably start talking about the band sometime soon-ish (it is fast becoming clear that writing reviews is definitely not my calling – I’ll never get the hang of talking at length on the topic of ‘singalong soulfulness’ or ‘walls of harmonies’ as per the review I just read). On paper, Fleetwood Mac was fantastic: the sound was great (despite the fact I was seated approximately a mile and a half away from the stage), they were energetic, enthusiastic and practically note-perfect.
There was a number of occasions when I was completely lost in the music (alas, only to come crashing back to reality when the woman beside me began clapping out of time again. Seriously, why did her companion not put an end to that?) It was the songs I was less familiar with that I found to be all-encompassing; there’s something rather disconcerting about listening to a live version of a song you’ve heard a thousand times before on the radio, or the jukebox – and with FM there was very little re-working of the old classics.
It was very much a Greatest Hits set (I bet there are actually folks out there who cite the Mac’s greatest hits as their ‘favourite album’) and they played everything I wanted to hear, but there was something lacking. For me, it all felt too polished, too practised, too contrived. I want to go to a gig and not know what’s coming next, what direction it might take. Quite possibly, I should have thought twice before reading the set list from the previous night, but I like to think I could still have correctly predicted 80% of what they would play!
I don’t know what I was expecting, to be honest. This is yet another band who’ve reformed so that they can add to their pension pots; of course it wasn’t going to be like clips from gigs they played in the 70s! At one point, Stevie Nicks announced that it was the 83rd date in the tour then embarked on a speech that you just knew she was reciting for the 83rd time. I didn’t pay to hear that, regardless of just how eager she was to share her delight in Christine McVie’s return to the fold. I think I’d have preferred it if the were still all at loggerheads.
Performers talking has always irked me something awful (unless I’m there to see them in a play, needless to say). There was an awful lot of onstage pontificating in the O2 that night. Nicks does like to name-drop (think lengthy tales involving a band she was once in that once opened for Hendrix, or the time she once drove somewhere so that she could shop somewhere where Joni Mitchell once liked to buy her stage outfits). Pointless, badly delivered tales that made you want to shake her and proclaim “You don’t need to talk about other musicians, you’re Stevie Nicks for crying out loud! Now shut up and play another song.”
As I was walking out of the venue, I overheard a man complain to his companion “they were literally wa*king each other off on stage for the last hour of that!” Now, either he had a better view than I did, or he’d not quite grasped the meaning of the word ‘literally’, but for me, that statement summed up the gig – it no longer seemed to be about the music, or even about the dramas of the past, it was about a group of musicians who have achieved something amazing, feel no need to mess about with that winning formula, and are inordinately pleased with themselves as a result.
Would I see them again? Probably not. Just as last week I vowed never again to step foot in the main hall of the O2, a couple of years ago I made the decision never to attend another massive music festival. Small festivals only for me from now on! As much as I think that the same set played outside, at sunset, to a field of intoxicated revellers would be hugely superior to the all-seated, soulless, rather sedate ambience of the O2, it’s not going to happen for me. If you’d posed the question this time last week as to whether I’d break my ‘no more big festivals’ rule for FM, I would have answered in the affirmative in a heartbeat. Ask me now and I’d tell you no – I’ve been there, done that and would have bought the tee shirt had they not been so extortionately priced.