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Concert Review: ‘Yesterday’s Gone,’ but the Music Lives on for Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Classic West Crowd

Variety logo Variety 7/17/2017 Chris Willman
© Provided by Variety

“Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone,” Fleetwood Mac sang in the closing moments of the Classic West festival Sunday night, but considering that out of 97 songs performed by six acts over two days at Dodger Stadium, not one tune was younger than 20 years old — and only three had been minted in the last three decades — yesterday is very much alive. Thinking about tomorrow, or today, or anything as fresh as the 1990s was as far away from the agenda as a surprise Chainsmokers appearance.

And while we’re doing some math, the amount of F’s given about this lack of topicality by the crowd of tens of thousands added up to, well, zero. This was a vast audience that believes, overtly or innately, that the zenith of American culture can be firmly placed in the years 1972 to 1980, when both the Eagles and Steely Dan had their original runs before epic-length breakups, and when fellow festival attractions Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and the Doobie Brothers were all enjoying peak moments.

As nostalgic impulses go, this one isn’t exactly the coolest, but it isn’t the craziest, either. Listening to McVie’s band again reenact the crazy experiment in which the lushest soft rock is set to an impossibly muscular rhythm section, or hearing Earth Wind & Fire recreate a peculiar niche of soul that should have lived forever instead of going as extinct as the carrier pigeon, you, too, could have a moment of being lulled into advocating for the Me Decade as the Greatest Generation.

If it’s possible to copyright a decade, Irving Azoff has one on the ‘70s. The legendary talent manager is the force behind both the Classic West fest and its identical Classic East counterpart, taking place at New York’s Citi Field July 29-30. He represents all six billed bands, or at least individual members thereof — which surely goes a long way toward explaining why there’ll be no Desert Trip II this fall. Last year, Goldenvoice had the genius idea to put every remaining superstar whose career dates back to the 1960s on one bill out on the Coachella grounds… and, having used up virtually everyone who fit that criterion, short of reuniting Led Zeppelin or Simon & Garfunkel, they would have had no choice for a boomer sequel but to move on to the next decade of legends. But it would be pretty difficult to book a Superstars of the ‘70s festival without going through Azoff, who has nothing if not the kind of DIY attitude that makes cutting out the middleman look easy.

Irving Trip, if we can call it that, was an unqualified success by any visible marker. Ticket sales might have been in question when an aggressive marketing campaign offered attendees a free Dodgers ticket in combination with a two-day pass, but it was clear that campaigning had paid off when attendants were asking drivers to show their tickets before gaining entry to the parking lots. The festival was VIP-friendy, too — an Azoff trademark. The stadium’s Dugout Club was transformed into the Forum Club, a nod to the elaborate buffet area Azoff’s people set up to encourage industry folk to make the trek down to Inglewood when he took an interest in that facility. Chavez Ravine may not have the mystique of the desert, but it did have creature comforts for invited guests, and no blisters or pedicabs.

What this festival didn’t have is a headliner with the ongoing creative vitality of Desert Trip’s Bob Dylan or Neil Young. On Saturday night, even though they were playing strictly ancient material, the Eagles had a sense of occasion built into the show, because of the notable guests filling in for the late Glenn Frey. But the limitations of relying entirely on material from three or four decades ago became more apparent during Fleetwood Mac’s closing set Sunday, particularly as the band played precisely the same 20-song set they’d played a year earlier at Dodger Stadium.

Surely they’d bring out a guest, or pull out a lesser played single or obscure album cut, or do anything at all that would mark the show as something fresh or special? Like, maybe, just add a song from the brand new Buckingham/McVie project, which is pretty much a Fleetwood Mac album in everything but its Nicks-lessness? No, not even that, although LED screens did advertise an upcoming Greek appearance by Buckingham and McVie as a duo, which is the ticket you apparently need to buy if you want to hear some not-by-the-numbers Fleetwood Mac music.

The most oddly incongruous moment came when Lindsey Buckingham gave a short speech that was actually about the need for artists not to rest on their laurels. “People who’ve been doing this as long as we have tend to sort of, what would you say, chase the brand, if you will, and end up doing pretty much what’s expected of them,” he said. “And it becomes a little more tenuous going out there and taking risks and continuing to define yourself as an artist.” Was this a setup for a new song? No, just an introduction to a frenzied solo acoustic version of “Big Love” — rearranged from the studio rendition, as he suggested, but the same version he’s been playing on tour as a solo artist since 1993 and with Fleetwood Mac since 1997. Given Buckingham’s brilliance and past track record of artistic restlessness, it was bizarre to hear him sell this decades-old arrangement of “Big Love” as a Big Risk.

But as intransigent as the set list may be, no one would ever accuse Buckingham of phoning it in. Screaming at the end of guitar solos, the guitarist worked himself into a lather as if he were just discovering his wild man side for the first time, perhaps protesting the band’s essentially sedentary 21st-century nature a bit too much. He did give Mick Fleetwood a good laugh by doing a Ministry of Silly Walks march across the stage at the close of “I’m So Afraid.”

You had to love the contrast between the lengthy speech Buckingham gave about the band’s tortured history — excerpt: “Through all the difficulties … and all the politics … in this band, and it can get pretty convoluted sometimes, you have to acknowledge that we wouldn’t here still if there weren’t a great, great deal of love” — with Stevie Nicks simply saying: “It’s a journey. In SO MANY WAYS.” In another seemingly spontaneous moment, Buckingham walked up to Nicks during a lull in “Sara” and tenderly rested his head right above her heart. As ex-girlfriends are prone to do in that kind of situation, she gave him a sort of half-hug in return. If you’re a fan of awkward moments, that one was almost worth the price of admission.

Sunday’s sets by Journey and Earth, Wind & Fire were hardly any less rooted and sealed in the past, but with those openers, the time capsule factor seemed to matter less. That’s partly because we expect less of them creatively, with both missing their former creative leaders, Steve Perry and the late Maurice White, respectively. It’s also because neither crew has any pretensions at this point about anything beyond competing to be the world’s greatest block-party band, a title either outfit could effectively contend for at any given moment, based on the relentlessly high-energy, ridiculously entertaining sets both turned in Sunday.

Journey was the only one of the six acts you’d say had something significant to gain from these bicoastal festivals, beyond the obvious paycheck and good will. They were the only one of the opening bands to get a 100-minute slot, as opposed to the 75-minute bookings for Steely Dan, EWF, and the Doobies. It was hard not to see that padded set length as an act of added evangelism on management’s part — because, as successful as the group tends to be on the road, there’s still enough of an aversion to ringer singers that the majority of Classic West attendees would probably never give a moment’s thought to buying a Journey ticket in 2017. They will now, though, so: Evangelism accomplished.

Journey is actually almost a decade into having Filipino-American success story Arnel Pineda as singer, and it’s not just because we haven’t been paying strict attention to time passing that we still think of him as the kid. It’s because he doesn’t look or, certainly, act a day over 19, even though a web check reveals Pineda is just shy of his 50th birthday. He has the Perry chops down, of course, but also a propensity for very non-Perryesque midair splits. Pineda gives off the kind of energy that makes you think he could hop over to Sunset and pave the whole length of it to the sea and back in amber, and still be back on stage by the end of Neil Schon’s guitar solo.

So, yes, we can maybe agree that they don’t make ‘em like they used to, when most of the true remaining rock royals, as seen here or at Desert Trip, are sixty- or seventy-something… but there’s still a lot to be said for the unrelenting vivacity of youth after all. Even if, in Pineda’s case, youth is actually just five months shy of an AARP card.

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