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Stevie Nicks “24 Carat Tour” With The Pretenders At Madison Square Garden, Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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Aging like there is no tomorrow, nothing lasts forever and beauty is only skin deep,  and when Stevie Nicks took a twirl in the middle of the stage at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, it was so slow and tentative that all that was left was a mix of sadness at the inevitable and also a little joy that it can only matter to that degree and then it stops. In the world of Fleetwood Mac whatever it was during its Laurel Canyon very high days, Stevie came after Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie in songwriting skills, and after to no one when it came to the personification of insulated rock n roll arrogance. I found her physically attractive, and good for a coupla songs every four years, but loving Stevie was like loving Marie Antoinette -antithetical to the cool that was rock. Over the years I’ve seen Nicks with the Mac, seen her opening for Rod Stewart, but never seen her solo. The promise of an hour of the Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde on the pop star: “don’t get any ideas, I’m marrying her”) to start the proceedings lead me there and I was pleasantly surprised that the irritating goth girl has become an elder stateswoman of pop wiseness. Her voice in tact, her attitude less airy fairy and more grounded in a past history we know and have seen but can’t imagine, she was like a visitor from another timeline.

All those pop guys who were swept away with punk, we underestimated them forever. Punk made them redundant in our estimation, who needs Fleetwood Mac when you’ve got Alternative TV? Chrissie Hynde, while the Pretenders started in 79, hey ho way to go Chrissie was brought forth via punk, a member of the inner inner circle of 77 – 78, an NME scribe back when it meant everything to be one, who sold her typewriter to punk Princess Julie Burchill and bought a Telecaster, was a counter Nicks: living in London, sneering at the squares, tough ass proto-feminist. If it was either or in 81, for fuck’s sake Pretenders II over Bella Donna, but that was then.

Backstage on Thursday night, Chrissie’s three doggies ran free, on stage, the Pretenders were better than I’ve ever seen em before. Here is a list of folks who can really suck on stage:

Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks

The Pretenders

The first time I saw the Pretenders live on stage, I’d spent the afternoon drinking with Jimmy Honeyman-Scott at a bar on 39th and 3rd in 80? Maybe 81. Like that. Before catching an iffy set at the Palladium, where Jimmy was the best thing about the proceedings and Chrissie’s intensity was mistaken for being sullen except, let’s get real here, she was sullen. Later that night at the afterparty (Hurrahs I think), Chrissie was rude to everybody except her inner circle. In 2014 at the Beacon, Chrissie was the exact same woman (here) but  a change was a-comin, and this is what Helen Bach (here) wrote last week about the same set at the Mohegan Sun: “She’s known for being temperamental (part of her charm) but for some reason tonight she was so full of smiles and self depreciation that you couldn’t help but find it endearing.” Helen claimed it was the return of original drummer and friend Martin Chambers, and Martin has always been a great place for her to steady her band, but the Pretenders 2016 as an entity are pretty fucking great: on pedal steel  Eric Heywood, lead guitarist James Walbourne who was simply breathtaking when he took a solo here and there, and bassist Nick Wilkinson.The set mixed songs from the Pretenders iffy Alone (caveat: Helen loved it), plus hits and the occasional wow did she do that. A gorgeous “Hymn To Her” (dedicated to Stevie: “It’s like being on tour with Elizabeth Taylor”) was a stand out: “something is lost, something is found” is a bumper sticker for today. Personal bests including a full on sneer fest with “Private Life”, and singalongs to “Message Of Love” and my fave “My City Is Gone”, an anthem for the apocalypse. After all these years, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The next day, a friend on Facebook mentioned he’d just interviewed Chrissie, who had turned down a four page spread in a major magazine and a Sirius show to talk with a tiny publication which still prints actual copies. Yup.

I saw a solo Stevie at the same venue (opening for Rod Stewart: with whom she shares a certain raspiness, right?) and thought she was dreadful, though she came through on the Christie McVie returns to Mac tour. But I expected the worst, had studied the setlist, and was planning to make my escape right after the fifth song, “Gypsy”, instead I stayed twice as long, and lasted through “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)”. If it hadn’t been a work day on Friday, I’d have waited it out. Stevie is awful chatty but her stories are interesting indeed, then boyfriend Jimmy Iovine insisting she add “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” is pro-forma big time rock storytelling, her deadpan Tom Petty impersonation a joy, and her memories of her frugal Mom were very sweet.

The performances were all completely ace -that is Waddy Wachtel on guitar, the songs less so. “Enchanted” yeah, awesome, “Bella Donna” and “Moonlight” (the song that had me heading home) bored me silly. “New Orleans” about Hurricane Katrina, was introduced with a clear explanation of how she works. Stevie writes a poem, and finds music she has on cassettes sent by friends and musicians which she keeps till she needs them, years can fly by before she matches em up, and puts em together. The image of Stevie sitting at her beach front home, staring at the Pacific, and writing poetry, is so indelible, it should be her logo. She didn’t record it till 2010. I did find a story about a poor Stevie Nicks waitressing and being thrilled to ride in a limo when she ht it big, risible in the extreme.. Her father was a successful Corporate Executive and her Mom a homemaker.   Chrissie Hynde joined Stevie for “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” -yeah, I know. The stage was delightful with the imaginary witchy woman giving way to a broader light hand, as though at 68 she takes her Goth Princess witch persona with a large grain of salt, she is still that woman but maybe a little less so, and the mix of animation and old pictures were powerful, the lighting lovely, the sound immaculate. And let’s go back to those pictures, holy Cali dreamgirl, Batman, she was gorgeous.

Still, loving Nicks is just about impossible for me. She is simultaneous too precious and too arrogant: Stevie is Snow White and the Queen Grimhilde at the same time. Loving her would be like loving “Fried Green Tomatoes” -I can’t do it, I’m not secure enough in my masculinity. But at 68 years of age, she is still swirling, however creakily, and she can still put on a show.

Grade: B-

1 Comment

  1. Joe P on December 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    I’m begging you. Please take a writing class. Learn punctuation skills and more than anything else, learn the proper way to form a coherent sentence.

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