More than 30 years later, they're still working things out onstage.
Thankfully, the conditions stopped being a story at Jazz Fest Saturday. Yes, a drainage trench near the Fais Do-Do Stage created an island of the hardcore near the stage while the timid watched from afar, and there were a few boggy no-man's lands, but the track was firm enough that walking didn't require more than casual attention. Thankfully, the music was once again the story starting with Fleetwood Mac, who drew a crowd that was as large if not larger than Bruce Springsteen's, and definitely larger than Bon Jovi's. By Little Big Town's mid-afternoon set, the track was down to one walking lane each way around the Acura Stage, with chairs set up not only in spots with a limited view of the video screen but places with obstructed views. An enclave staked out spots by the Acura Display Tent behind the stage.
The band didn't disappoint. For two and a half hours, they covered most of the hits (I'm sad about the omission of "Seven Wonders"), two songs from the new Extended Play EP, and a handful of album tracks. But the show was more than just an exercise in nostalgia. The songs and the act of performing them clearly still feed something in the members, particularly Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Both clearly still physically feel the drama in their songs, Nicks with signature hand and arm gestures that never felt rote Saturday, and Buckingham with such an intense physical engagement that he was winded after the extreme guitar workout on "I'm So Afraid" from 1975's Fleetwood Mac. He ended a hard, rocking "Not That Funny" from Tusk with an exuberant "Yeah!," and often stomped or froze, hunched over, as if he was working to stop the song's momentum. Nicks complained at times of a bug in her throat, but she gently caressed her songs, while Buckingham's vocals, like his in-song demeanor throughout, threatened melt down or rage out.
There were caricature-ish elements to the set - Nicks' graduated shade a la Jackie Collins, Buckingham's Professor Frink-like "subvert the axiom" speech introducing songs from Tusk - but there were also charming moments such as Nicks doing her version of the Camel Walk in black suede boots to mirror Buckingham's self-absorbed pacing during solos, along with them coming out for the encore holding hands.
The question the show presented is whether the personalities presented on the Acura Stage led to the mayhem that became their personal lives, or if they were a product of it. Whatever the case, the set was more vital than we've been conditioned to expect from reunion tours.
Elsewhere at Jazz Fest:
- Honky tonk music has a pretty limited vocabulary, and Lafayette's Yvette Landry works in it without being constrained. Yes, her songs are largely about bars, bottles and heartbreak, but the bar's the Blue Moon and the guy is bad in bed. Her honky tonk has a foot in the city and one in the country, and neither her songs, her voice nor her band show a hint of strain in the straddle.
- Mutemath has the songs - "Typical" started a lot of groovy hand gesturing - but their songs could get airy Saturday on the Gentilly Stage. The chiming guitars and keyboard textures were designed to create mood, but mood's tough in the sunshine. Still, I admired their intelligence and the degree to which they own their love of technology, which they use in oddly humanizing ways. The last 10 minutes were the most compelling, perhaps because they involved Mutemath at its the most physical. Paul Meany crowd-surfed on an air mattress off the Gentilly Stage before diving off into the mud, and for the closing "Quarantine," everybody hit drums except for guitarist Todd Gummerman, who picked up his pedal board and orchestrated his feedback.
- If you take Jazz Fest's predilection for good singing and good playing to its natural conclusion, you get Little Big Town. Nashville today may be nostalgic by default and a galaxy removed from Hank and Johnny, but the musicians there can sing and play. It's hard to say what made them notable (Covers of Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake? Sounding like Fleetwood Mac?) beyond the singing and playing, but they could sing and play.