AUTHOR: Cascadacia Simmons
Preamble: It’s Friday 8 December 2023 and I’m at the sold-out, first and only Melbourne performance of the Gold Coast based Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks Tribute Show, ‘Dreams’. Although I bought my ticket in August, I only managed to snag ‘Standing Room’ as every table seat had already disappeared. I find myself propped against the balcony at the Memo Music Hall in St Kilda, beside the projector.
My stablemates range from casual listeners, their majority presence attesting to the ubiquity of Fleetwood Macs flagship singles throughout popular culture, through to a smaller portion of hard-core fans howling all the lyrics, reliving the tortured backstory of every cryptic line. I’d consider myself a Mac Fan who falls just short of obsession. I saw Fleetwood Mac perform live during their ‘Behind the Mask’ tour in Melbourne in 1990. ‘Dreams’ is the fifth Mac tribute band I’ve seen perform this year.
There’s a distinct difference between ‘covers bands’ and ‘tribute bands’. A tribute band goes beyond just playing the tunes of the band they’re dedicated to. While some offer schmaltzy impersonations punctuated by ‘Did you know …’ band trivia, the most successful tributes commit to doing real justice to the ‘whole package’ of the music they’re recreating. They channel the ‘vibe’ of the band as a whole, while individually embodying the most distinctive features of key band members. Few offer a level of performance that wins them the crowd’s admiration not just as a tribute, but as a laudable band in their own right. ‘Dreams’ achieves this easily, and absolutely.
Emulating (as all current Fleetwood Mac tribute bands do) the band’s most celebrated lineup featuring Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, so too is ‘Dreams’ masterfully fronted by the band’s founder, musical director, vocalist and lead-guitarist, Wayne Daniels. Beside him occupying centre stage is relative newcomer to the line-up, American vocalist Nikki Canale, compelling in her physical and vocal resemblance to Stevie (Nikki and Nicks – the Stars have aligned).
With due respect, Nikki’s presence, energy, powerhouse vocal chops and capacity to channel the ‘Spirit of Stevie’ is unparalleled in the world of ‘Tribute Stevies’ touring Australia and beyond. This is in no small part to her decade of professional performance in Vegas. In every other Mac tribute I’ve seen this year, there’s been a ‘weak link’ in the line-up in terms of musicianship. Not so with ‘Dreams’.
Every member of the band is a solid player who holds their own. Matt Skea as Mick Fleetwood and Regotron Leayr performing John McVie’s role, provide a rock solid and relatively unassuming bass and drum backline, occasionally contributing solos and vocals . Of all the tributes I’ve seen, Krissy Linehan is the only Christine (also ‘Chrissy’) McVie’ who comes closes to reincarnating the understated performance and mellifluous stylings of the band’s late keyboard player and vocalist.
While the vocal mix takes a couple of songs to increase to the right level (and the tempo of ‘Second Hand News’ is arguably a bit faster than comfortable to perform or listen to), there’s not a single note out of place for the entire night’s performance, comprised of two generous sets, divided by intermission.
Costuming is impeccable, looks expensive and would be worthy of Mac’s original line-up. From the drummer’s nod to Mick Fleetwood’s ‘wooden toilet balls’, red cravat and vests to the guitarist’s sparkling trousers and fierce gold lion adorned boots, every detail weaves another thread into the sophisticated tapestry of authentic homage.
As per Stevie’s endless wardrobe changes during full length performances in the 80s and 90s, Nikki exits stage left between most songs to don new shawls, top hats and other quintessentially Nicks-ish accessories. Most spectacular is the astonishing costume for ‘Edge of Seventeen’, transforming Nikki into a luminous and larger than life ‘white winged dove’ with ‘wings’ that fill almost a third of the stage (at one point narrowly missing the guitarist during one of many wide wing-spanned twirls).
Most ‘Stevie Nicks Tributes’ I’ve seen have failed dismally in the twirling department. The ‘Dreams’ audience get their money’s worth of unapologetic, tasteful twirling. This includes recreation of Stevie’s baton twirling in ‘Tusk’ (a perennial crowd favourite, alongside Steve’s esoteric stream-of-consciousness ‘Sarah’ and every tribute act’s encore choice, ‘Go Your Own Way’). Unlike the trancey-abandon of Stevie Nicks’ notoriously substance-fuelled twirling on stage, Nikki never twirls deep into a world of her own, always maintaining warm and direct contact with her audience.
And there’s no attempt to recreate the legendary tensions of Buckingham and Nicks during the tumultuous ‘Silver Springs’ and other Conflicted Ex-Lover Squabble Anthems, as some audience members might yearn to see emerge from the performance. ‘Dreams’ (the band, not the song) offers authentic homage rather than disingenuous imitation.
Like most Fleetwood Mac covers and tribute acts, the performance contains educative elements, inevitably paying homage to the band’s founder Peter Green with ‘Oh Well’ and honouring the late Christine McVie through Linehan’s soulful rendition of ‘Songbird’. Throughout the show, the context of how certain songs were written is conveyed. In particular, the well-worn origins of ‘Dreams’ and ‘Landslide’ are rehashed.
Shifting focus to several songs from Stevie Nick’s solo career yields the band’s only significant misstep on the night. Had the rest of ‘Dreams’ performance not been so dazzling, the decision to omit the non-negotiable ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (featured on their website showreel) in preference for John Stewart’s ‘Gold’, where Stevie was essentially a backing vocalist, would have be deemed unforgivable.
Where songs like Stevie’s single ‘Stand Back’ have been inspired by the likes of Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’, the muse song is infused for a few bars to highlight the sonic cross-fertilisation. This is just one of several points of musical inter-textuality purposefully integrated throughout the performance. Brief strains of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ also make unpredictable, judicious and satisfying appearances. Such snippets reinforce the notion of how Fleetwood Mac, Solo Stevie and indeed all music writers draw their musical influences into their creative process. They also confirm that the performance by ‘Dreams’ is not purely imitative and derivative, but genuinely perceptive and creative.
There show also infuses humour, with drummer Matt Skea recruited to help deliver some low-hanging laughs. His comedic role is amplified visually and sonically during his idiosyncratic centre stage ‘body percussion’ performance, emulating Mick Fleetwood’s over-the-top (typically coked-to-the-eyeballs) antics. Presumably sans-stimulants, Skea’s rendition offers a short, silly and kinda sweet homage to Fleetwood’s regular live non-traditional percussive solo (alongside a crowd-pleasing traditional drum solo elsewhere in the show).
Similarly, Canale’s somewhat lengthy, waffly segue declaring that ‘Australia should be declared as one of the ‘Seven Wonders’ of the world, may or may not have intentionally emulated Nicks’ propensity for the kind of long-winded speeches that once caused Lindsey Buckingham to ‘smirk’, thus forfeiting his place in Fleetwood Mac’s lineup for all eternity. Canale’s echoes of Nicks’ sardonic post-performance comments about ‘Silver Springs’ as ‘a great old song’ (if you know, you know) and Linehan’s allusions to the show as a ‘soiree’ (a’la Christine McVie’s standard turn of phrase) offer some subtlety to the infusion of the broader canon of Fleetwood Mac lore.
Typical of FM tribute bands, a huge screen at the rear of the stage features historical images and footage of the band, coupled with ‘Dreams’ original visual material. (Canale with her flowing black dress and top hat manages to completely supplant Nicks in the visual projections for ‘Rhiannon’, almost without detection). While the projection has been carefully constructed for infusion throughout the entire performance, at no point does it become a distraction. Nor is it ever preferable to watch the projection instead of the live tribute band (as is the case with some other Mac tribute bands, where videos of the original band serve to compensate for lack of authenticity on stage). At the ‘Dreams’ Show, primary focus remains on performers on stage who prove worthy of the fullest attention and respect.
The dynamic stage lighting is par excellence, contributing to the sense that ‘Dreams’ could command a stadium as easily as it does this more intimate music venue. Every element of the band’s performance is carefully crafted and perfectly balanced to optimise audience enjoyment and participation.
It’s no wonder that ‘Dreams’ tours extensively, most shows selling out many months in advance. ‘Dreams’ is not only the closest that music lovers are ever likely to get to Fleetwood Mac again. They are exceptional performers in their own right, one of the most proficient and engaging tribute bands currently gracing Australian stages.
Check them out at: www.dreamsshow.com.au
AUTHOR: Cascadacia Simmons
IMAGE CREDITS: Jori Skea – Single Origin Creative