This is a review of the Chicago leg of the 24K Gold Tour w/ Stevie Nicks & the Pretenders!
Stevie Nicks is a living legend in rock music. She’s given us timeless classics with both her band Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist, with beauties like “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Sara” and “Gypsy” (all with her group) and “Stand Back,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “If Anyone Falls,” “Leather & Lace” and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (away from the group).
Rock’s one-time leading lady has also been somewhat of an enigma during a career that’s now spanned five decades and has seen several highs and lows – both personally and professionally. Her story is just as intriguing now as it was when it was shrouded by mystery during the height of her popularity in the 1970s and ’80s. And on Saturday, December 3, she brought some of that intrigue with her to Chicago’s United Center on the 18th and latest stop of her “24 Karat Gold Tour.”
A friend and I attended this show along with nearly 20,000 other loyal fans, and – judging from the reactions – most left very pleased. There were likely several reasons for that, not the least of which was that many of us likely couldn’t imagine some 41 years ago when we were first introduced to Ms. Nicks (on Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 album – the first one on which she and her former partner Lindsey Buckingham appeared), that we’d be seeing her perform those tunes and more as a 68-year-old matriarch of rock in 2016, and doing so well at it.
Even Nicks herself seemed astonished at the fact while wondering aloud how a little song like “Crying In The Night,” which she wrote between 43 and 46 years ago (she wasn’t being too specific), could see the light of day in a live performance some 43-plus years later.
Nevermind that Stevie’s heavier vocals in 2016 limit her to singing the lower part of harmonies that she once belted in a much higher register. I haven’t seen many artists who’ve been fortunate enough to last this long who haven’t undergone that vocal metamorphosis. More important than the music or her delivery of it were the stories that went with each song – whether or not she explicitly told them. Sure, each song told a story. But each song also had a story.
And those stories were woven around a central theme – a theme that became clearer to me as we were exiting the arena after her encore performance of “Landslide” ended the show…
You can’t do it by yourself.
Stevie Nicks has embraced that mantra her entire career. She has had many liaisons and partnerships over the years, and – based on her own account (and this hasn’t been disputed publicly) – she’s nothing if she’s not loyal to the many people she’s worked with, whether it be backing musicians and singers, band mates, fellow superstars, or songwriting and duet partners.
Stevie herself acknowledged that she could make a career of doing duets and would always have job security.
It is that theme of collaboration – particularly Stevie’s large number of them – that the rest of this article explores in seven short stories of loyalty and partnership that hopefully give readers the same insights into this legendary artist that I gleaned from the show…insights that also explain what has made Stevie Nicks so successful for these many decades.
Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde
Stevie’s opening act was Chrissie Hynde & the Pretenders. Frankly, you could do far worse than these fellow ’80s rockers for an opener. Hynde herself was in top form (and great physical shape I might add) as she and the band gave a rousing 15-song performance heavy on rock guitar distortion and light on frills. To wit, the graphics on display during the Pretenders’ show amounted to four bright stage lights and a constant backdrop that occasionally changed colors and patterns, but not much more. In fact, one could argue that the two, Nicks and Hynde, couldn’t be any more different in that regard, what with Stevie’s many costume changes and far more intriguing graphics show.
But Hynde and Nicks are kindred spirits, with both past their 65th birthdays, both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and both forging their way through a male-dominated rock-and-roll world that saw each one navigating both bands and solo careers. Hynde – one could argue – has had a tougher go at it, considering that two of the Pretenders’ other three original members have passed, and the third, drummer Martin Chambers, has been in and out of the group since its ’80s and ’90s heyday. To the contrary, all the classic lineup of Fleetwood Mac are still alive and have toured together as recently as 2015.
Hynde and company opened their show with “Alone,” the title track to the Pretenders’ latest album, released in October 2016. That title is a likely reflection that Hynde has kept the Pretenders afloat largely on her own, and her name and the group’s is now interchangeable as practically one entity.
“Alone” also contradicted the collaborative theme I spoke of earlier, but only briefly. As Hynde rocked and rolled through her catalog of songs old and new, she reached the midpoint with a tune I consider to be one of the best-written tributes to friendship ever: the 1994 classic “I’ll Stand By You,” which completely erased any expressions of having to go through life untethered that Hynde had given earlier.
In that same spirit of friendship, the 65-year-old rocker specifically dedicated two songs to Stevie Nicks: “Hymn To Her” and the Pretenders’ biggest hit, 1983’s “Back On The Chain Gang,” although she stated later that the whole show was actually for Stevie. Then Hynde continued a performance largely consisting of her guitar strumming and trademark talk-singing through familiar hits like “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” “Middle Of the Road” (including her classic harmonica solo on the bridge) and “My City Was Gone” (a classic from the Pretenders’ 1983 album, Learning to Crawl).
She also delivered a message of unity in the newer song (from Alone) called “Holy Commotion,” during the introduction to which she stated, “there’s not a lot of (religious tolerance) going around these days” before reminding the thousands in attendance that this “great nation was founded on it.”
Hynde finished her show with the song that introduced her to pop’s mainstream some 37 years ago, “Brass In Pocket,” during which she swayed her hips from side to side like it was 1980, while the enthused crowd danced and sang along.
About 40 minutes after her performance ended, she made an encore appearance by dueting with Nicks on her own biggest non-Fleetwood Mac hit, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” filling in for Tom Petty on various parts and reminding us again that Stevie Nicks indeed has good friends in this business.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham
Stevie’s professional career began at a young age as part of the duo of Buckingham Nicks, with former romantic partner and later fellow Fleetwood Mac member, Lindsey Buckingham. Her relationship with Buckingham – and subsequent breakup – became the inspiration for several of the songs on Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours album in 1977. Two of the songs Nicks performed on the 24 Karat Gold stop were associated with Buckingham: “Crying In The Night,” from the Buckingham Nicks album, and the less obvious “Belle Fleur,” from her latest studio album, 2014’s 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault. Before singing it, Stevie told the crowd she wrote the latter tune in 1978 after pondering long black limousines, tours, relationships and “breakups.”
While many longtime fans in attendance likely knew of Stevie’s storied career and relationship with Buckingham, Nicks didn’t dwell on it, aside from a few casual references and awkward anecdotes. It’s likely that the on-and-off again alliance with Buckingham and the rest of Fleetwood Mac will be on again soon and Nicks has always taken a high road when it comes to the group, never being one to burn any bridges.
Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac
Speaking of the group that brought Nicks to us in 1975, Fleetwood Mac’s story was as important a part of this show as the singer herself, and not because Nicks couldn’t pull this off on her own – she certainly could (and has for many years). It’s because Fleetwood Mac is as notable for its individual contributors, especially Nicks, as it is for the group’s collective membership.
The songs on Fleetwood Mac’s albums have always been characterized by their three main writers: Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Each one has maintained his or her individuality with every song contributed, with each person usually singing lead parts for their own compositions and the songs usually taking on the writer’s persona as a result.
In that regard, each person was critical to the band’s success, and Fleetwood Mac’s ongoing success depended on each member’s continued membership. Nicks was no exception as she gracefully pointed out during this show when explaining why she cut her 1981-82 Bella Donna solo tour short (after just six weeks) to go back into the studio with the band to record their 1982 Mirage album. It was simple: she had made them a promise that she’d return.
And so it was on this night that she performed four of her Fleetwood Mac songs, including “Gypsy” (from Mirage), “Gold Dust Woman” (from Rumours), “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” (both from her first album with the band). With the latter two being her encore performance, the singer made no apologies (and none were needed) about mixing her Fleetwood Mac and solo song catalogs to make this show complete.
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty
If it wasn’t before, it’s certainly clearer now just how important Nicks’ friendship with rocker Tom Petty was to the success of her first solo album, 1981’s Bella Donna. As she set the table for that album’s lead-off single, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” Nicks told the story of how she was informed by her people back then that she didn’t have a “single” when the album’s first tracks were presented. It was prior to the inclusion of “Stop Draggin'” and her producer suggested she team up with Petty who had the perfect song in mind.
After deliberating for a night, the very proud and once reluctant Nicks acquiesced and “Stop Draggin'” was born. The song became her biggest hit outside of Fleetwood Mac, peaking at #3 for six weeks and propelling the album to #1 and multi-platinum status. It is her biggest selling solo album to date and she’s remained friends with Petty ever since.
Stevie Nicks and Prince
In the wake of Prince’s untimely death in April 2016, Stevie has often told the story of how one of her signature tunes, 1983’s “Stand Back,” was born. She had been inspired by Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” from his 1999 album and sat down to the piano to write what would become the first single from The Wild Heart album. But out of respect for the artist, she phoned Prince to ask him to come listen to her composition and asked his permission to continue with the song, given its similar chord pattern to “Corvette.” Not only did he bless “Stand Back,” but he graciously contributed keyboards and synthesizer to it, making the song what it is today.
Nicks has clearly been moved by this recollection and the artist’s passing, so much so that she paid Prince the ultimate tribute during her “white-winged dove” song, “Edge of Seventeen,” during which she flashed images of the late legend on the huge screen behind her, as the audience before her showed its own appreciation with each Princely image shown.
Stevie Nicks and Her Band
Nicks’ loyalties go beyond the big named artists mentioned above. She has surrounded herself with a small circle of musicians that have been with her – for the most part – since 1981’s Bella Donna. That is an incredible statement considering that most bands don’t stay together this long, much less singers and their backing musicians.
Included in Stevie’s loyal entourage are her two longtime backup singers, Sharon Celani and sister Lori Nicks Perry (the latter of whom was excused on this night because of the pending birth of her grandson). She had been replaced by another singer, but when Perry’s still image appeared on the backdrop behind the musicians, Nicks exclaimed in what seemed like genuine surprise while she introduced them.
Nicks did experience a very senior moment during one band member’s introduction, however. After heaping praise on her pianist (and sometimes musical director) Darrell for making the songs feel like she intended – particularly the tune “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” for which he gave a stellar piano solo intro – Stevie struggled with the musician’s last name.
It was easy to understand this blunder – which Nicks’ offered was her brain playing tricks on her – seeing how it was one of the toughest names in existence to remember: Smith.
In the end, all was likely forgiven given the more than two hours Stevie had been on stage singing songs and telling stories about the tunes and the musicians playing them.
Stevie Nicks and Herself
Which brings me to Nicks herself. Stevie is now one of the elder stateswomen of rock who has survived even when others around her, including the singer herself, thought she wouldn’t. The story that accompanied the two songs “Bella Donna” and “Wild Heart,” which she performed as a medley, was a testimony to this fact.
In describing the huge success of the album Bella Donna, Nicks told the crowd how she went back to Fleetwood Mac to record their next album, Mirage. Fearful that many would believe Bella Donna was a fluke, the artist then immediately went back to the studio for her second solo album, The Wild Heart, which itself became successful and proved that her solo career was indeed no fluke.
Now, several albums and tours later, the rock legend has seemingly come full circle, still mindful of personal relationships past and present but also concerned about the world around her (cue the story about her song “New Orleans,” which was inspired by those affected by Hurricane Katrina).
She is also aware of her own frailty, repeatedly knocking herself for some minor verbal blunders and senior moments (like the Darrell Smith incident) throughout her “Music 101” story-telling sessions. It’s clear the show wasn’t as scripted (a good thing) and Nicks perhaps isn’t as sharp (a forgivable thing) as she once might have been.
But the fact remains she’s still here. The crowd showed its appreciation for that fact with each of Stevie’s famous Nick-isms, whether it be the famous twirl she did for “Gypsy” (and again on “Stand Back”) or the original long black cape she donned in tribute to her early-’80s “Welsh Witch” persona. For the latter, Nicks displayed the original cape in admiration of how long it’s lasted, playfully stating that if she played the stock market, her money would be on “silk chiffon.”
With such anecdotes, and there were many, the raspy singer, who during the height of her career came across as mysterious and even mythical, was indeed mistake prone and down-to-earth. In other words, quite human.
And while her close friends who the singer stated were in attendance at this show may believe that she’d finally “gone insane,” as Nicks herself bemused after several moments of lost clarity, we thought she was just fine.
It was an “enchanted” evening indeed.
The following are the set lists for both the Pretenders’ and Stevie Nicks’ performances on Saturday here in Chicago.
2. “Gotta Wait”
3. “Message of Love”
4. “Private Life”
5. “Down the Wrong Way” (Chrissie Hynde song)
6. “Hymn to Her”
7. “Back on the Chain Gang”
8. “I’ll Stand By You”
9. “My City Was Gone”
10. “Holy Commotion”
11. “Stop Your Sobbing” (Kinks cover)
12. “Don’t Get Me Wrong”
13. “Mystery Achievement”
14. “Middle of the Road”
15. “Brass in Pocket”
1. “Gold and Braid”
2. “If Anyone Falls”
3. “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”
4. “Belle Fleur”
5. “Gypsy” (Fleetwood Mac song)
6. “Wild Heart”
7. “Bella Donna”
9. “New Orleans”
11. “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)”
12. “Stand Back”
13. “Crying in the Night”
14. “If You Were My Love”
15. “Gold Dust Woman” (Fleetwood Mac song)
16. “Edge of Seventeen”
17. “Rhiannon” (Fleetwood Mac song)
18. “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac song)