LOS ANGELES – Brilliant-colored fireworks exploded over Dodger Stadium as Fleetwood Mac closed out their two-hour set for The Classic West Sunday night.
Hues of red, green, yellow and blue popped over the crowd while the legendary band performed a spirited version of “Don’t Stop.”
The “Rumours” hit single served as the perfect ending to The Classic West, a new two-day classic rock music festival based in Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium featuring the Eagles, Steely Dan, Journey, The Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Curated by Irving Azoff in response to last year’s profitable Desert Trip, The Classic West is the ultimate recipe for whipping up a memorable dish of music nostalgia – early 1970s classic and folk rock fused with jazz-inspired tunes, southern California harmonies, groovy R&B, disco and arena rock anthems.
It also served as the perfect time musical time machine for nearly 50,000 attendees and me. I was ready to board a mythical aircraft similar to the one featured on the cover of Journey’s 1981 album, “Escape,” and travel back to a bygone era.
The Doobie Brothers
Once on board, I piloted the ship back to 1973 when The Doobie Brothers brought their classic rock anthems to the masses with hits like “Black Water” and “Long Train Runnin’.”
For about 75 minutes, I watched The Doobie Brothers bring their energy and enthusiasm to a crowd ready to relive its musical glory days. They kicked off their 13-song set with “Jesus is Just Alright” and traveled through time to “Takin’ it to the Streets” and “China Grove” with Tom Johnston at the helm.
While Johnston helps maintain the musical consistency of Doobie’s early sound, Michael McDonald added an element of soft rock magic that’s a big part of the band’s history. Too bad McDonald wasn’t there to share in the nostalgia with his former band mates.
Next, the musical time machine stopped over for a stay with Steely Dan, which featured Donald Fagen as the sole representative. Bandmate Walter Becker was absent due to an illness.
Fagen, sans a front tooth, held down the jazzy fort on stage while performing “Bodhisattva,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Dirty Work” and other classic hits. I’ve seen Steely Dan live four times and have yet to hear “Do It Again.”
I won’t give up hope though. I know I wasn’t the only attendee who wanted to hear one of the band’s biggest singles.
The musical time machine came to a stop for the night during the Eagles’ two-hour set, which featured Glenn Frey’s son, Deacon, and Vince Gill filling in for the late co-frontman.
Co-frontman Don Henley reflected on the band’s first performance since Glenn Frey’s passing last January. “This one’s for you, Glenn,” he said. “You’re in our hearts tonight, and the music goes on.”
Deacon Frey superbly captured his father’s musical spirit with “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.” He would have made his father proud.
Meanwhile, Gill sang lead vocals on “Take It to The Limit,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and “New Kid in Town.” The country music icon was a natural choice to fill in for Glenn Frey. His smooth vocals comforted fans who dearly missed Glenn Frey’s presence at The Classic West.
The best surprise included a guest appearance from Bob Seger, who provided vocals on the Eagles’ 1979 hit “Heartache Tonight” from “The Long Run.” Seger, who served as Frey’s mentor early in his career, also co-wrote the song. As a crowd member representing Detroit, it was nice to see one Motor City musical legend pay tribute to another.
Finally, Joe Walsh played two solo hits, “In the City” and “Life’s Been Good” toward the end of the Eagles’ set. Walsh is my favorite Eagle, and his spunky, fun-loving stage presence is a nice contrast to the band’s calm musical disposition.
Earth, Wind & Fire
The Chicago-based R&B, soul and funk band fired up the musical time machine for day two at The Classic West. Scorching July temperatures didn’t keep attendees in their seats; they danced to the band’s classic hits “Shining Star,” “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove.”
Dressed in sequined white suits, Earth, Wind & Fire reflected the crowd’s musical groove and packed nearly a decade worth of hits into an hourlong show. The band served as the ideal opener for a hot summer Sunday evening at Dodger Stadium.
Original remaining members Philip Bailey (lead vocals), Verdine White (bass) and Ralph Johnson (drums, percussion) carried on Earth, Wind & Fire’s musical legacy for Maurice White, who passed away last February. Bailey’s son, Philip Doron Bailey, provided backing vocals for the band during their set.
The recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees brought 100 minutes of pure ‘70s and ‘80s arena rock to the crowd Sunday night and provided the most energetic performance, thanks to frontman Arnel Pineda.
Pineda is an absolute thrill to watch as his swiftly moves from one end of the stage to another. His stage presence is reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, while his voice uncannily captures the original spirit of former lead vocalist Steve Perry.
Pineda wasn’t the only shining star during Journey’s performance. Long-time members Neal Schon (guitar) and Jonathan Cain (keyboards) provided energetic solos throughout the show and seamlessly transitioned from one Journey hit to another.
For me, Journey’s performance highlights included “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Only the Young,” “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.” However, “Don’t Stop Believin’” continues to reign as the crowd’s favorite Journey song of all time. It was one of the most anticipated songs to hear live during The Classic West.
Returning Journey drummer Steve Smith, dressed in a swanky multi-colored patterned shirt, banged out a powerful drum solo toward the end of the show. His drumming chops continue to strengthen each time he returns to the Journey.
One of the most memorable moments included Schon paying tribute to Perry before the band played “Lights.” A part of me hoped Perry would show up to sing with Pineda and his former bandmates, but I knew that wouldn’t happen. Maybe one day!
I’m not afraid to admit that Fleetwood Mac’s appearance is what ultimately drew me to The Classic West. The idea of seeing the band perform at Dodger Stadium was a big deal for a hardcore fan like me.
In June 1979, Fleetwood Mac recorded their hit single and video of “Tusk” at Dodger Stadium with the University of Southern California (USC) Marching Band. I wanted to see the stadium in person since “Tusk” originated there. Yeah, I get excited about weird things like that.
As Fleetwood Mac closed out The Classic West Sunday night, I eagerly awaited the band to perform “Tusk” as part of their setlist. Luckily, they did.
I leaned forward in my loge seat in section 150 as Lindsey Buckingham played the famous opening riff to “Tusk.” He played the song with the same energetic fervor that he always does, but there was no reflection on the importance of Dodger Stadium in “Tusk’s” 38-year history before or after the song.
I felt somewhat disappointed. How could the band not commemorate such an important part of its musical history in southern California?
I was hoping for a surprise performance from the USC Marching Band, but only historic video footage of the marching band appeared on the towering screens behind the band. It was like watching a life-size GIF from 1979.
Instead, the best “Tusk” surprise was a performance of “Think About Me,” a catchy pop track featuring Buckingham and Christine McVie from the same album.
“Think About Me” and “Tusk” were two of the 20 songs Fleetwood Mac performed during their two-hour set at The Classic West.
Their set also included a heavy dose of “Rumours” and white “Fleetwood Mac” album era classics, such as “The Chain,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Dreams,” “Second Hand News,” “Rhiannon” and “Landslide.”
While performing “Landslide” with Buckingham, Stevie Nicks also paid tribute to the late Glenn Frey and his son Deacon Frey.
“I was such a big fan, and I also wanted to dedicate it to his son for stepping in and doing such an amazing job last night … I didn’t do it before I sang ‘Landslide’ because I would’ve started to cry, and I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.
Another performance gem included “Bleed to Love Her,” which Buckingham used as vehicle to sum up the band’s musical legacy.
“Fleetwood Mac is a band of contradictions. I think much of what we are is being able to push through the adversity, being able to push through the personal difficulties and to keep the idea of fulfilling the destiny that always awaits us,” Buckingham said.
“I think you have to acknowledge through all the difficulties, all the different ways of looking at things, through all the politics that there can be at times in this band, and it can get pretty convoluted sometimes, then you have to acknowledge that underneath all of that we wouldn’t be here still if there weren’t a great, great deal of love.”
Yeah, I know the band’s love is still there. I “don’t stop” thinking about it every time I see them.