A former member of The Zombies recently said that once groups went on tour to promote albums, but now they make records to support new tours. Lindsey Buckingham has taken this one step further. First, he released a new studio CD, Seeds We Sow; then went out on tour; and finally released Blu-ray, DVD, and CD editions of a concert promoting the other new album. Open your wallets, Fleetwood Mac completists, for Songs from the Small Machine: Live in L.A.
Filmed in April 2011 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, the concert is now available in high-definition with DTS surround sound, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital Stereo.The two-hour, 19-song show is a slow cooker, opening with a sampling of Buckingham’s solo singing and playing before adding other musicians and building the energy. Not exactly Fleetwood Mac heights–but then again, that’s part of the point. This is a “small machine” and, as a result, 5.1 sound isn’t really required to experience the flavor of the show.
The concert opens with “Shut Us Down” and the bluesy “Trouble” by a troubadour changing acoustic guitars from song to song and running a dramatic range of dynamics. Getting intimate with the audience, Buckingham admits that, stripping away all of the things that have made him successful, his center is simply one man and his guitar. Apparently the lack of supporting players in his opening numbers also frees him to cry out his lyrics in a way that wouldn’t fit in with an ensemble setting. He then offers old favorites “Never Going Back Again” and “Big Love.” For the latter, he reveals the song had started out as a contemplation on alienation, but he views it now as a song about the power of change.
For “Under The Skin” and “All My Sorrows,” Buckingham is joined by two of his bandmates for the evening, Neil Haywood and Brett Tugell. They first supplement Buckingham’s vocals and acoustic guitars before adding drummer Ralfreado Ramez for the electric set. This begins after Buckingham talks about the origins of his new album, which he claims is partly about the microcosm of family life. It’s really at this point where the power of the night kicks into a higher gear with new songs “In Our Own Time” and “Illumination.” After another quick look back at the Mac with “Second Hand News” and “Tusk,” we learn the explanation for the concert’s title. Fleetwood Mac is the “big machine,” his solo work the “small machine.” Making an analogy with films, he believes the smaller scale projects, like independent films, allows an artist to grow and “feed the heart.” It also seems clear that Buckingham is looser without his more famous band-mates, able to invest his energies into his finger work without need of meshing in with the architecture of Fleetwood Mac.
Buckingham returns to his more personal material with “Stars Are Crazy” and more new tunes like “End of Time,” “That’s The Way Love Goes” and then performs a lengthy, haunting, blistering electric solo on “I’m So Afraid.” After one more nod to his rock god days with “Go Your Own Way,” Buckingham finishes off the set with Mac-ish poppy tunes “Turn It On,” “Treason,” “Go Insane,” and another acoustic number, the title song from his last album, “Seeds We Sow.” In short, he goes full circle from acoustic to electric to a simple reminder as to why he staged this concert.
In the end, the performance is a demonstration of Buckingham’s point that the small machine feeds the big one and vice versa. Any of his solo songs could be layered into a Fleetwood Mac track, and any of his mega-hits can be made into a more intimate statement. This concert also proves, once again, that Buckingham can be a one-man show as a songwriter and performer, an ensemble player, and an artist with values and ideals to share in his lyrics.
One word of caution: due to several extreme changes in volume along the way, it’s worth keeping the remote handy. Even in the acoustic portion of the show, a quiet passage can suddenly blow the listener out of their chairs without warning. Of course, we get a Buckingham interview as a bonus feature. Not surprisingly, he feels his new offerings are his finest work to date. I’m not willing to go that far, but agree Buckingham’s “small machine” is more than a placeholder in between Mac reunions. In particular, this man’s guitar playing is among the best there is, whether in stereo, Dolby, or live. That alone is worth the price of admission.