Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders in Concert Review (Nashville, TN: 2016)

By:  Karl Stern & Tonya from When It Was Cool (@wiwcool, @dragonkingkarl,

I have seen many concerts over my life, ranging from the legendary and iconic to the niche and unremarkable.  I've been fortunate to witness many of greatest musical acts of the last forty years.  

On a very rare occasion you know you have watched something truly special.  I vividly remember the first time I saw "it" - that special intangible that only certain stars possess.  I was probably 18 years old when I saw Robert Plant preform Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song live in concert.  Robert Plant stood there silhouetted in shadow with large fans blowing his shirt open and his blonde, curly hair whipping in the wind while belting out the opening battle cry of the lyrics.   He was larger than life.  He was a superstar.  Almost thirty years later I saw that "thing" again.  That intangible charisma that transcends mere talent.  I saw that in Stevie Nicks.

I have been a Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac fan for as long as I can remember.  As a child of the 1970's and 1980's how could you not be exposed to the greatness of Fleetwood Mac?  There has seldom been a more perfect band, even if all the participants have had their share of personal turmoil.  Somehow, the chemistry and talent always transcended and somehow, the tumultuous relationships served to make the music better. Mick Fleetwood seldom gets mentioned with the "greatest drummers" of all time and I think that is a shame.  Fleetwood has an incredible sense of timing and precision.  John McVie, while unspectacular, lays down a recognizable and fundamental bass pattern to build on and Christine McVie is a stellar singer in her own right.

But then there are Stevie and Lindsey Buckingham.  Lindsey Buckingham's sense of atmospheric melody is unsurpassed by any other guitarist except perhaps David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.  Buckingham can set a mood and tone that gives an incomparable setting for Stevie Nicks to lay her ethereal tones over, producing some of the most memorable and resounding music of the last four decades.

Last night in Nashville, Tennessee, Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders played to a packed house at the Bridgestone Arena.  The end-stage capacity is about 18,500 and there were only a few scattered pockets of empty seats, so, I'm estimating the attendance to have been above 17,000.

The Pretenders opened the show.  I have only had a modest appreciation of The Pretenders before tonight.  They weren't "channel changers" for me, in fact, I rather like Chain Gang but I have never cared for Brass in Pocket and that about sums up my prior knowledge of The Pretenders.  They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 but, even then, I barely noticed them.  Boy, did I have a schooling coming.

The pretenders

The pretenders

Chrissie Hynde hit the stage rocking.  The Pretenders presented a hard driving set and Hynde sounded flawless.  Her voice is just as strong today as it was in the early 1980's.  The band has changed repeatedly over the years so I'm not even going to get into the line-up because I have no idea what history these people have with The Pretenders of old.  Hynde did appear to scold the band during Don't Get Me Wrong, even waiving the band to a stop but I honestly couldn't tell if she was just playing around or if there was a problem.  If there was (she said they were coming in "late") I couldn't tell it and she may have just been having some fun.

The Pretenders wrapped up their set and we had half an hour before Stevie Nicks took the stage.  The Pretenders completely over exceeded my expectations and if the purpose of a live show is to drive music sales then The Pretenders succeeded because I am going to buy some of their music now which is not something I would have considered previously.

Back in the early 1990's I saw Joan Jett and The Blackhearts open for Aerosmith.  Joan Jett opened so strongly that she blew Aerosmith away.  I left that concert much less a fan of Aerosmith than when I arrived and a much bigger fan of Joan Jett.  She literally left them in the dust.  I was afraid this might be a similar experience.  The Pretenders set had been so strong and unexpected that I was afraid that Stevie Nicks- singing deep cuts instead of mega-hits, was going to be a big disappointment... boy was I wrong.

Stevie Nicks is a star.  From the moment she floated onto the stage for the first time the crowd went insane.  Every movement and inflection and even the slightest gesture set the crowd on fire.  Also, amazingly, Stevie Nicks, now in her late 60's, somehow hasn't aged at all since Fleetwood Mac reunited in the mid-1990's.  Her voice has not wavered a single bit.

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks

This tour is in support of her 24 Karat Gold album which is celebrating older unreleased songs from her vault.  This concert is more about Stevie Nicks' favorite songs that she wants to sing and less about the hit parade.  Still, there are plenty of big hits in the set and timed out perfectly in the mix.

The Stevie Nicks set was an amazing mix of deep cuts, hits, and hidden gems.

The Stevie Nicks set was an amazing mix of deep cuts, hits, and hidden gems.

A real treat was Stevie Nicks singing her duet hit Stop Draggin' My Heart Around but with Chrissie Hynde standing in for Tom Petty.  It was a fun moment in the show.  Another stand out song was Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream) which she admitted she herself was a fan of the song.  Obviously, Dreams and Stand Back were huge crowd favorites.  Stevie Nicks paid tribute to Prince at multiple points during the show but none more so than with Edge of Seventeen and the dove imagery and ending the song with a tribute to When Doves Cry.  And then there was...

moonlight (a vampire's dream)

moonlight (a vampire's dream)

Gold Dust Woman

I have always loved this Fleetwood Mac song.  The song is about drug addiction, particularly Stevie Nicks' struggle with cocaine but like the best of songs there are many ways to interpret the lyrics.  I have always loved the atmospheric darkness of the song.  It is not over-wrought with technical guitar solos and there is never too much going on.  It's just a dark simple beat with Stevie Nicks vocals at their ethereal best.  But this performance went beyond that.

I watched several performances of this song on YouTube before last nights show but none of them touched this.  The performance of this song now ranks with Robert Plant's performance of Immigrant Song as probably my top "Oh my God, this is happening" concert moments ever.  It was an amazing moment that literally had to be experienced to fully appreciate.  The crowd knew it too.  After this song the proverbial roof came off the place, it was one of the loudest crowd roars I have ever heard.  The specialness wasn't lost on anyone.

The encore featured two giant hit songs- Rhiannon of course, and the final song was the Don Henley duet piece Leather and Lace.  Of course, there was no Don Henley so Stevie Nicks performed the song with her duo of backup singers and the song made a nice trio piece to wrap up an amazing concert.

Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders... must see.