Lindsey Buckingham is a certain type of Californian. Only seven years younger than Brian Wilson, he never hit the bloat phase, physically or musically. Now 59, he still sports sunken cheekbones and skinny jeans. Wearing a tight, black leather jacket last night at the Nokia, he resembled a louche Roman oracle. His music, particularly his fingerpicking guitar playing, has always been tightly wound, a neurotic style rooted in California’s cocaine-addled seventies. It has never packed the joy of the Beach Boys: Wilson’s orchestral masterpiece is the ecstatic “Good Vibrations;” Buckingham produced the beautiful but accusatory “Tusk.”
Bliss eluded Buckingham well into his forties. He brooded over pressure from his occasionally insolvent Fleetwood Mac bandmates to give his best songs to them. His always-interesting, but weak-selling, solo projects were pushed back repeatedly. But that’s all over now. Buckingham is now married with three children. (They’re prominently featured in the, yes, joyful video for “It Was You.”) He’s released two excellent solo records in two years, Under the Skin, and the new Gift of the Screws. Last night, he played about half his set from the two albums, tossing just enough Mac hits into the mix to keep the wolves at bay. The new songs center on his ethereal guitar playing and late-in-life serenity. Unlike most “happy” rockers, though, Buckingham has plenty of angst still in the tank. About halfway through the show, he launched into a monologue about the difference between his “big machine” work with Fleetwood Mac and “smaller machine” solo career. He discussed the left brain and the right brain, and the concept of esoterica. This brought a whoop from a fan. Buckingham grinned: “Yeah esoterica!”
Not that he left his arena-rock roots completely behind. His guitar playing ventured into the show-offy — at one point he played with just one hand — and whoever came up with the idea of a five-minute drum solo featuring the drummer playing his head like a coconut needs to be checked back into rehab. Still, Buckingham seemed grateful for the opportunity to play his songs without worrying about Stevie, Christie, John, or Mick. He closed with “Time Precious Time” from Gift of Screws, a lamentation about patience and wasted moments, and perhaps a nod to not being able to watch kids fathered in your fifties grow into adulthood. His guitar playing seemed to disappear into itself. This was the last night of his tour, and by the end of the song Buckingham had tears in his eyes. He mouthed the last word of the song — “remember” — smiled, and walked off into the darkness.