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Fleetwood fires up fans with old hits

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- Mick Fleetwood, half of the namesake for one of the most successful rock bands in history, Fleetwood Mac, doesn't need to tour to support himself any longer.

The Mac's success has made him quite comfortable, financially, and though the group is on hiatus more than it is working these days, Fleetwood could be enjoying peace, quiet and prosperity at home.

Instead, he has gathered a few of his oldest friends and hit the road under his own imprimatur. Clearly, the Mick Fleetwood Band is a labor of love for all involved.

On Friday, during the first of two evenings of sold-out shows inside the Avalon Ballroom, Fleetwood and pals Billy Burnette, Rick Vito and George Hawkins Jr. dug deep for Fleetwood Mac tunes covering three decades, and threw in some surprising, and delightful, cover tunes.

The show commenced with Fleetwood striding straight to the front-of-stage microphone and introducing his band mates in a relaxed, conversational manner.

This was an unusual move, but fit the loose, laid-back atmosphere of the entire show. Guitarists Burnette and Vito are seasoned players, and have long histories with Fleetwood. Most notably, the pair joined Fleetwood Mac following guitarist and principal songwriter Lindsey Buckingham's departure from the band, in the mid-'80s. Bassist Hawkins has performed with Fleetwood intermittently over the years, as well.

With the introductions out of the way, the band got down to business, and it was immediately clear that this outfit had much more in common with the first version of Fleetwood Mac -- when original guitarist Peter Green led the band through a visceral fusion of blues and rock in the late '60s, launching the future careers of an untold number of guitarists in the process -- than it did with the more popular hit-making machine led by Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in the '70s.

"Monday Morning" is, in fact, a Buckingham song, but when this band opened with it on Friday, it came across like a Green-era bluesy romp. Burnette handled the vocals beautifully, and Vito's slide guitar playing was jaw-dropping.

The Green tunes came quickly, with Vito handling the vocals on the evergreen, "Oh Well," and then leading the group through a torrid take of Green's "Black Magic Woman," a tune made famous by Santana.

The Fleetwood Band's version was heavier and bluesier, and during the song's coda, which Santana used as an opportunity to interpolate Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen," the group kicked into swampy blues shuffle.

More than any other guitarist this writer has experienced in the live setting, Vito can channel Green -- from the legendary guitarist's shimmering, sweeping vibrato, to his achingly restrained blues phrases. The crowd responded appropriately with a loud roar at the tune's conclusion.

"Rattlesnake Shake," another early Mac classic, got a serious workout, Vito again bringing down the house with his vibrant soloing. Burnette's "My Love Will Not Change," a tune he wrote for the bluegrass outfit, the Del McCoury Band, was granted a hopping rockabilly treatment, much like the approach taken on "When the Sun Goes Down," a Burnette/Vito tune from Fleetwood Mac's undervalued "Behind the Mask" album.

Throughout all of this, Fleetwood simply beamed from behind his kit, his pure locomotive force as a drummer balanced by his taste, restraint, and ability to move fluidly between straight four-on-the-floor rock beats, swing-blues, rockabilly, and even a jazzy country ballad.

The band returns to the Avalon Ballroom this evening for a second sold-out show.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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Mick Fleetwood Band

Friday night in Avalon Ballroom, Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort.

Another performance at 9 tonight.

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