There’s the heart attack and emergency triple bypass surgery he underwent in 2019 while already under anesthesia for a different medical procedure — an incident exacerbated by vocal cord damage sustained during the life-saving surgery. His wife of 21 years, Kristen Messner, filed for divorce in June (Buckingham has said in numerous reports since that he and Messner are “working” on their marriage). He readied his first solo album in a decade, Lindsey Buckingham, for release, only to see it delayed repeatedly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oh, and in 2018, the band with which he gained global fame, Fleetwood Mac, unceremoniously fired him, triggering a round of lawsuits and recriminations in the press primarily between Buckingham and his longtime collaborator, foil and muse, Stevie Nicks, which have continued, off and on, ever since.
Yet the 72-year-old man who stood center stage Thursday night before an adoring, near sold-out crowd inside the Majestic Theatre bore no visible scars from his struggles (indeed, a wedding band adorned his left hand). This tracks with a battered-but-unbroken iconoclast who's long been seemingly resistant to wounds that might fell mere mortals.
Look no further than Buckingham’s singular playing style, a furious fusion of finger-picking and polyrhythm resulting in an aggressive beauty impervious to trends or fashions. What anchored multi-platinum rock smashes in the 1970s sounds no less vivid or electrifying in 2021. Buckingham often seems to not have been ahead of the curve, so much as he himself was the curve.
Time and again Thursday, his fierce strumming and angular melodies nearly dared those in attendance to lean in and get lost. Over roughly 105 minutes, Buckingham and his musical collaborators (Brett Toggle, Neale Heywood and Jimmy Paxson) tore through material from Buckingham’s just-released, self-titled album, his formidable solo back catalog and a handful of Fleetwood Mac staples.
Alternating between acoustic and electric guitars with every song, Buckingham struck a pose of graciousness early and often, frequently mouthing “Thank you” to the cheers erupting as chords evaporated, and placing his left hand on his chest in gratitude.
“We are very, very pleased to be up here tonight,” he said not long after taking the stage. “It took us a while to get here, but the point is: We’re here, you guys are here — we’re very happy to be doing this.”
As has long been his custom, the singer-songwriter is patently unafraid of turning well-worn hits and beloved FM chestnuts inside out to suit his own left-of-center presentation.
Buckingham often seemed like a man unleashed, leaving little breathing room between songs. He spun from “In Our Own Time” to “Soul Drifter” to “Doing What I Can,” leaving space for extended instrumental freak-outs, as during “I Must Go” or Mac classics like “Tusk” and “I’m So Afraid,” which peaked with Buckingham slapping the neck and body of his guitar and howling, as the audience gave him its umpteenth standing ovation of the evening.
As has long been his custom, the singer-songwriter is patently unafraid of turning well-worn hits and beloved FM chestnuts inside out to suit his own left-of-center presentation. Hearing “Never Going Back Again” slowed to a molasses crawl and pitched down vocally only intensified the climax as Buckingham’s voice and playing suddenly leapt up to match the tenor and tone of the original.
Those attending such solo endeavors often reserve the warmest reactions for the material made popular in the confines of a group, but the Majestic Theater crowd was on board for everything Buckingham threw at them, cheering lustily for “On the Wrong Side” or “I Don’t Mind,” Buckingham songs that are less than three months old.
Often, in writing about Buckingham, critics reflexively quote at length from “Not Too Late,” a track from his 2007 LP Under the Skin, not least because he sings the line “Reading the paper, saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew.” (What can you say, except that we’re an easily flattered bunch?)
While the self-awareness is certainly clever — and, it must be said, a bit moving in concert, as it was Thursday, when Buckingham seemed to lean into the line “I’m not a young man, but I’m a child in my soul” — there’s another song of his that seems to better illuminate where he is now, and what he feels, having lived through an extended period of personal and professional difficulty.
That would be “Shut Us Down,” also from Under the Skin, and a tune Buckingham performed alone on an acoustic guitar Thursday, illuminated by a solitary spotlight.
The thrust of the song is, ostensibly, about a relationship, with allusions to mistreatment and honesty. What leapt out Thursday, watching the bent-but-unbowed Buckingham’s fingers pull notes from strings, having weathered just about every sort of calamity life can throw at someone, was the harrowing repetition of the chorus: “No, I will stay around/As long as I can/As long I can.”