Concert and Venue Review: Lindsey Buckingham Live at City Winery (Sunday, 8/26/12 in Chicago)

Concert and Venue Review: Lindsey Buckingham Live at City Winery (Sunday, 8/26/12 in Chicago)

In town for a pair of sold out shows at Chicago's newest venue, Lindsey Buckingham brought his one-man show to City Winery on the west side Sunday night...

Restaurant.  Winery.  Concert hall.  Performance venue.  There's a lot going at City Winery, Chicago's newest venue.

Snuggled amidst the combination of vintage industry and bustling nightlife that is Randolph St. at Racine, City Winery was bigger than I expected.  It holds between 175 and 350 depending on the concert (seated vs. standing) but it feels larger.  Seats are spread out at tables to give patrons plenty of room to eat, drink... and rock.

It's a classy venue.  In fact, one of two concerns that I had going in was that it could be too classy.  Granted, at thirty-two I'm probably low end at best of the demographic they're going after.  I like my rock in dark, dank clubs.  But I have to say, City Winery offered me a pleasant change of pace amidst a bright, lively room.

I also worried a bit that clanging plates, glasses and the like, at a venue with a full menu, could hurt the acoustic concert experience.  But plates were collected prior to the start of Sunday's set and clatter was never an issue.  In fact, credit City Winery for sporting a killer sound system.  Sunday's Lindsey Buckingham set was solo acoustic.  But the show was loud.  Very loud.  Loud enough that you weren't going to hear glasses clank.

Sunday's crowd remained seated for the majority of the show (save for multiple standing ovations) but it was nevertheless a good crowd.  I feared the crowd could potentially be in attendance at a hot new venue more to be seen and less to see live music.  But Sunday night, the crowd knew the material, remained respectful (refraining from yelling the type of pablum that's often tempting when seeing a big star in a small venue) and at the end of the night reflected the motif set forth by the evening's stripped down vibe (and they managed all that despite being revved up on plenty of good booze).

So while I can't speak to the food because I didn't eat, the wine list was good (something for everyone at a variety of price points without being at all intimidating) and the beer list was solid too (it wasn't immense but did feature great crafts from a variety of regional brewers like 3 Floyds and Half Acre that weren't overpriced). 

If you're thinking about catching a show, get your tickets in advance because these shows are selling out (and with an impressive innaugural list of performers including Lewis Black, Sam Moore, Patterson Hood, Mavis Staples and more they should sell out).  I flew solo on Sunday but was struck by the fact that City Winery has got to be a fantastic date place.

It will be interesting to see what effect the new hall has on area venues that book a similar range of artists.  Rooms like the Old Town School of Folk Music, SPACE in Evanston and Fitzgerald's in Berwyn are the  first that come to my mind.  In fact, City Winery hired former Old Town School talent buyer Colleen Miller as its program director.  But when it comes to live music, Chicago has always been capable of accomodating all types.  Besides, a little competition is generally good for the consumer and quite frankly, when all was said and done Sunday night (and despite a few initial reservations that I had going in), City Winery was the perfect venue for this particular Lindsey Buckingham set.

City Winery (exterior) - Photo Credit: documenttheday
Photo Credit: documenttheday

"I hope you're enjoying your flank steaks." joked Buckingham in one of the evening's rare light moments.  "I know I did mine."

Starting out the show, Buckingham took a moment to offer a few words on why this show would be different from what he dubbed "The Big Machine" (AKA Fleetwood Mac).  On Sunday, "The Small Machine" consisted of Buckingham, a bevy of guitars, the occasional drum machine loop and a tech that earned his keep tuning guitars at a frantic pace at the foot of the stage, trading them off to Buckingham following literally every song of the seventy-five minute set.  I lost track of whether Lindsey actually played a different guitar on every song...  But he definitely switched guitars following every song.  Solid body acoustics, electric acoustics... you name it and it was probably played by Lindsey Buckingham Sunday night.

As what I've always considered to be the true creative force behind Fleetwood Mac's finest moments, Buckingham somehow remains an extremely underrated guitarist.  He's one of my all-time favorite players and his finger-picking skills were on full display at City Winery.

There are times during a solo Lindsey Buckingham set where you could close your eyes and envision about three guitarists performing in front of you.  And yet, you open them to find only one man responsible for the rhythm, melody and notes enveloping your senses. 

"Never Going Back Again" was the perfect example.  Buckingham is clearly still incredibly passionate about his music and that's what struck me immediately in this solo acoustic setting.  The song started out slightly slower than you're used to, continued into a soaring solo and ended in a scream.  The expression on Buckingham's face as he plucked every note and uttered every breathy vocal (building eventually to near hysterics) was something to behold.  It's clear he still remembers every ounce of pain that he felt when he wrote that song for Rumours in 1976.

"Go Your Own Way" closed the main set and is a more impressive tour-de-force when performed solo by Buckingham than it is amidst "The Big Machine" that is Fleetwood Mac.

Lindsey returned to the concept of "The Big Machine vs. The Small Machine" following "Trouble" to open the encore.  "Trouble" was never amongst my favorite solo Buckingham tracks.  But free of eighties production value, the spotlight was placed squarely on songwriting and guitar playing Sunday night and it shined in a way that only "The Small Machine" was capable of making it.

While the crowd might have gone craziest for the Fleetwood Mac material, they were certainly into the solo material.  Buckingham thanked the crowd for allowing him to take risks.  But at the end of the night Sunday, it was truly a pleasure to watch an artist of Lindsey Buckingham's magnitude care enough for his art and his audience to even want to take those risks this far in. 

Chicago's west side, Randolph Street in particular, still features prominently the warehouses and other features that used to denote a city of industry.  And amidst a city of industry, big machines are designed to make things easier. 

Onstage Sunday at City Winery, Lindsey Buckingham was free of anything resembling "The Big Machine" trappings and crutches of the typical Fleetwood Mac arena tour (video screens, bandmates, pyro, and other distractions) with the spotlight placed instead solely on himself:  as a songwriter, as a singer and as a guitarist free of frills and without a net.

Lindsey Buckingham closed the show Sunday night with the title track of his stellar 2011 solo album Seeds We Sow.  And at sixty-two years of age, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, it was an apropos closer as Buckingham continues to plant seeds forty years into a career that continue to result in an incredible musical harvest.

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    Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday nights at 6PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS and AM 1060 WHFB (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet). Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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