Review: Mack Fleetwood, Skylite Room, Warrenpoint
This was my first trip back to the Skylite Room since it won the accolade of Best Live Music Venue at the Northern Ireland Hospitality Awards back in September. We arrived early to grab some food in the fabulous Number 7 Duke Street Restaurant, and lucky we did, for the bar started to fill up more than two hours before the gig was due to start. Tonight’s sell-out gig was Mack Fleetwood, one of Ireland’s best known and most enduring tribute acts.
If you’ve never been to see a tribute band, it can be easy to sneer at them and dismiss them as a poor substitute for the real thing. In my experience though, a really good tribute band is a wonderful thing. That’s especially true when there’s not much real chance of seeing the real thing; when the artist is deceased for example, or when like The Smiths there is a cat in hell’s chance of them ever getting back together, or when like Fleetwood Mac, the ticket prices are so astronomical, they’re right out of many people’s price range. And actually, knowing that the current Fleetwood Mac tour doesn’t include Lindsey Buckingham, I’d have no interest in going anyway.
Everyone I know who’s been to see Mack Fleetwood, have said they sound just like the real thing, and I was sceptical, but actually I was pleasantly surprised. Siobhan as Stevie Nicks was particularly accurate, but actually, all together, there were times, when guitars and harmonies were especially spot on, it was hard to distinguish them from Fleetwood Mac proper.
In terms of looking like the band; the girls had the edge I must admit. Faux Christine McVie was sexy and sleek, all clad in black, and Stevie in silver lame jumpsuit and “Babadook” hat was mad as a box of frogs – so, much like the real thing really. What replica John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham lacked in physical likeness, they made up for in musical skill. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they were flattering the hell out of their heroes tonight.
Opening up with “Gold Dust Woman”, right down to the cowbell it was pretty perfect. Throughout the night they alternated between the different eras of Fleetwood Mac, (and with seventeen studio, eight live and twenty-three compilation albums, there are several), so there was something for everyone. I’ve always divided my attention between the Peter Green years, and ’75 – ’79 and my three favourite post-Green albums; Fleetwood Mac (75), Rumours (77) and Tusk (79), all of which were represented.
I need hardly detail the setlist – fans in the know will have a fair idea what to expect – but I’ll do it anyway, just for the craic; from Rumours there was “I Don’t Wanna Know” (which sounded just like the record), “Don’t Stop,” “Oh Daddy” (penned for Mick Fleetwood by Christine McVie), the ever emotive “Songbird” with just Christine and a piano, “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” and “Second Hand News.” When they played the latter song, I was six or seven again, in our front room, sneaking a go on my big brother’s record player and his precious vinyl. I think this album holds memories like that for a lot of people.
From Fleetwood Mac there was “Say You Love Me” and “Rhiannon,” and from Tusk, “Sara” and of course, the title track. You might recall that the original version of this song featured the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band? Well five musicians on a little stage in Warrenpoint did a pretty decent job of replicating that sound – it was banging!
The Peter Green portion of the evening alone was worth the door tax. The dreamlike “Albatross,” the sensual “Black Magic Woman,” and the ardent “Need Your Love So Bad,” transported us all back to ’67 (even though that’s long before I was even born). For me though, the top tune of the night was “Oh Well.” “I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin,” Peter Green wasn’t just a blues guitar god, he was a poet! Just at that point I saw someone weaving through the crowd carrying a tray full of flaming shots – fitting for these songs dripping with late sixties psychedelic hedonism, making the place look as much as it sounded like some kind of bacchanalian festival.
For those too young to know or care who Peter Green was, there were visits to Mirage and Tango in the Night an even the Stevie Nicks solo track, “Rooms on Fire.” From Tango they played “Everywhere” and “Seven Wonders,” “Little Lies” and of course, “Big Love.” For those never destined to see Lindsey Buckingham in the flesh, now that he’s parted company with the Macs, apparently for good this time, this was a pretty good second. Conor in the band isn’t exactly Lindsey’s doppelganger, but his voice is powerful and if you closed your eyes you could almost believe it was him.
Finishing up with a couple of giants of songs, the crowd was really heaving at this point – as a good friend of mine used to say, “you couldn’t have turned a sweet in your mouth.” There were girls up dancing on chairs, glasses raised in the air spilling without care on whoever happened to be nearby, it was mad. Forget “Sunshine of Your Love,” Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” has the best, coolest, most easily recognisable bass line there is, and the crowd loved it. “Go Your Own Way” was the perfect way to end the set on a high and leave the people dancing.
The fact is, that with any tribute band, there needs to be a certain suspension of disbelief. But if you can manage to enjoy it for what it is – a night of fun and nostalgia and really great music – then there’s no need to get sniffy about it. And Mack Fleetwood are one of the best and well worth a night out.
To check out where they’re playing next, click here.
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Photos courtesy of Richie Ellison.