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The Small Machine That Could

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I recently had the pleasure of attending both a concert of Lindsey Buckingham‘s and even more enjoyably — and quite revealingly — an intimate lecture/performance by the man held in New York City’s 92nd Street Y. Both settings, even the former, Buckingham was somehow able to transform into stark, revealing showcases for a single man and his muse.

Or, as he himself explains during Eagle Rock Entertainment’s new Songs From the Small Machine: Live in L.A. DVD, “Before there was a band, before there was any commercial success, before there was songwriting, production, there was a young boy listening to his older brother’s records and teaching himself to play guitar. I guess as I evolve and mature as an artist, one of the things that I come to appreciate is that you must look for what is essential. You must look for the center. And, for me, it becomes increasingly apparent that that center is, and has been, the guitar.”

Buckingham, of course, is one character who, as with most things he does both onstage and off, never fears to take his guitar playing to vividly wild extremes. The five-song, totally LB-only prelude that opens Live in L.A. not surprisingly finds Buckingham delicately whispering upon his fretboard one moment, then thrashing his instrument like a deranged, prancing ostrich the next — an engagingly terrifying contrast he often brings to his songwriting itself; witness “That’s the Way Love Goes” later on in the set.

And speaking of writing, he is also a man who considers himself more a song stylist than a song writer — a subtle but meaningful distinction perfectly illustrated at Buckingham’s Y lecture as he performed an utterly sublime version of The Rolling Stones‘ “I Am Waiting.” As Buckingham told us, that song, along with “She Smiled Sweetly” (the final track on Buckingham’s newest CD, Seeds We Sow), represent to him the Stones at their absolute creative peak under the guidance of the brilliant Brian Jones who, like Buckingham, specialized in styling a song with exotic musical and tonal textures. Lessons, no doubt learned early by the young Buckingham via Aftermath and Between the Buttons, which remain apparent throughout the man’s recorded work to this day.

Conversely on the concert stage, however, it’s Buckingham’s non-Fleetwood Mac “small machine” (as in bassist/keyboardist Brett Tuggle, guitarist Neale Heywood and drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr.) who are relied upon to provide perfect instrumental/vocal accompaniment, be it by channeling Brian Wilson during “All My Sorrows,” George Harrison‘s “I Need You” A chord for “Turn It On” or simply by getting wisely out of the way as their fearless leader’s four-and-a-half-minute (!) guitar solo plows “I’m So Afraid” to its illogical conclusion.

All four guys also treat the crowd-pleasin’ classics “Tusk” and “Second Hand News” with due respect yet renewed enthusiasm. But, say what they often will about that large machine, the small one still must rely upon the Big Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” to get the inhabitants of Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre completely out of their seats and up on their feet as this DVD draws to a close. It is my prediction that as Fleetwood Mac tours become less frequent in the years to come, Buckingham will lean more and more heavily upon his long-ago work with the large machine to ensure a feasible small machined touring career.

“For myself, I know that I have made quite a few bold choices,” Buckingham says introducing “Seeds We Sow” during Live in L.A. “Choices that were not always popular. But I think time does have a way of revealing things.” Songs From the Small Machine surely reveals an adult child still reflecting upon his brother’s record collection but still active, still flourishing and still reveling in the now. And still painting from, as he likes to call it, the far left side of his palette.

You just watch, and listen: I bet Buckingham’s small machine outruns — and outlasts — them all.

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.