by Alan Sculley and Mike Corrigan

As Fleetwood Mac got set to release its new studio album, Say You Will, drummer Mick Fleetwood knew any extended future for the reunited group would probably hinge on how things went on the impending tour.

"Hopefully this will be a successful tour -- and more importantly, a happy tour for everyone," he said a year ago. "If that is the case, I think everyone is really open to making more music and doing it really quickly."

The mere fact that a year later Fleetwood Mac is preparing for another 10-week American tour speaks volumes about the quality of life within the group, which today also includes guitarist/singer Lindsey Buckingham, singer Stevie Nicks and bassist John McVie. (Longtime singer/keyboardist Christine McVie did not rejoin the band.)

"It could have turned into a nightmare, and it didn't," Fleetwood says of that first reunion tour.

What helps, of course, is that life has changed in drastic ways for the band members, whose personal dramas during the 1970s and '80s were as big a storyline as their record-setting commercial success.

The arrival of the then-romantically linked Buckingham and Nicks in 1974 reshaped the musical direction and the fortunes of Fleetwood Mac, which up to then had enjoyed nothing bigger than a modest following after debuting in 1967 as a capable blues-rooted rock outfit fronted by guitarist Peter Green. Along with third songwriter Christine McVie, they steered the group toward more of an impeccably crafted California pop sound, and the shift quickly paid phenomenal dividends.

A 1975 self-titled album caught fire behind three hit singles, "Over My Head," "Say You Love Me" and "Rhiannon" (the latter, a coming-out showcase for the charismatic Nicks). Then in 1976 came Rumours, the mega-platinum, hit-filled Grammy-winning album that topped the charts for 31 weeks.

Rumours documented the stormy disintegrations of the Buckingham-Nicks romance and the marriage of the McVies. The wounds from those separations, coupled with a drug-fueled lifestyle and a then-secret romance between Fleetwood and Nicks in the late 1970s created monumental tensions over the next decade. Somehow the group co-existed long enough to make three more studio CDs before Buckingham's departure in 1987 spelled the end of an era for the group.

After more than a decade of furtive steps towards a full reunion, Fleetwood Mac emerged last spring with the solid, 18-song Say You Will. No Christine McVie, but at least the tenuous prospect of an extended future as a group.

The year of touring that followed, Fleetwood says, did much to rebuild the bruised but still-potent chemistry within the group. The fact that the wild days of drinking and drugging are behind the band and that all four members are far more settled in their personal lives has done a lot to make the reunion work as well.

Even so, according to Fleetwood, the future success of Fleetwood Mac hinged on how Buckingham and Nicks meshed during the tour.

"It's really Stevie's and Lindsey's deal," he says. "Not to denigrate me and John, but the reality is a band is a band is a band, but there's also a front line. And that has been the most important thing. They've never necessarily seen eye to eye on a lot of things during their history, and I think the testimony to the fact that that's working is the fact that we are still out here doing this. They have really found what they had when they were Buckingham/Nicks. So that has been a big success. And any ups and downs that they are prone to emotionally have been handled really well to allow them total free reign to really blossom on stage. It's been magical, it really has."

In fact, Fleetwood says if the group goes on to make another studio album -- something the members have all expressed interest in -- it will be significantly different from Say You Will.

"In many ways, this is his album in terms of how we got there," Fleetwood says of Buckingham, who produced Say You Will. "And no doubt the band would not have reconvened had Lindsey not decided to do what he did. It's a long, long journey. People say, 'Oh, you just got back together to make some money.' I don't think so. Not unless you think a 10-year journey is some preconceived plan. Not even me in my wildest dreams is devious enough to do that. Or crazy enough."

Yet, he says, that creative dynamic will change if another album is attempted: "If we do another one, no doubt we would be doing it from the ground up all together."

In the meantime, Fleetwood Mac fans can sink their teeth into a slew of re-issues. The albums Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk were recently re-released, with the latter two each featuring a bonus CD of previously unreleased demos and outtakes. These were followed by Live in Boston, a two-DVD, single-CD concert recording culled from a two-show stand in Boston last year.

"It's just us where we are now," Fleetwood says of the live package. "This is the first one without Christine, so in many ways, it's very different. But it turned out good. As a document, it is certainly, to me, really important."

Suffrajett and the City -- Suffrajett serves exuberant and unpretentious slices of yeah-rock tailor-made for these overly complicated times. Yet there's nothing about this Brooklyn quartet that sounds the least bit calculated. They play it NYC-style, in the very best sense of the term, combining a street-tough sensibility with a clear affinity for melodic '60s pop. And those fine influences come through on nearly every track of the band's self-titled debut long-player, from skewed relationship workouts ("Whatcha Got," "Love Me More") and growling noise pop pieces ("The Drugs," "Get Away") to dead-end street howlers ("Sorrow") and gritty, balls-out rockers ("NY"). Other earthly delights include a beautifully moody piano interlude with "Sticks" and the chiming, bittersweet organ-infused romp of "Cry Baby."

The band takes a break from its national tour with the MC5 to make a stopover at the B-Side on July 4 with Tri-Polar, a new Northwest project featuring Spokane native and former Everclear member Craig Montoya.

The ferocious sound achieved on Suffrajett is the product of just two people: guitarist Jason Chasko (who also handled the bass and drums in studio) and vocalist Simi (who possesses the one-two punch of a great voice that is also a great rock 'n' roll voice). The arrangements are minimal but far from simplistic, with Chasko wrestling a stunning assortment of textures and atmospherics from his axe. The album was recorded, not in one of NYC's many plush and prestigious studios, but in a Manhattan Mini Storage, the inner-city equivalent of a suburban garage.

"It was our rehearsal space," laughs Chasko. "We set up the drums in the hallway because, you know, no one's ever really there unless they're getting sh** out of their lockers and leaving."

Yet putting a band together -- and keeping it together -- in the nucleus of the music universe presents young rock bands with a unique set of challenges.

"It's difficult in New York to do the things you need to do for a band to survive. You're spending your entire day making money to pay the rent, pretty much. It's hard to write and to get into a practice room 10 hours a day. We were lucky and able to do that. But there are big cliques there, you know. And the bands that have come out of New York recently, like the Strokes and Interpol, all got their start in Europe. I think that's really the only way to crack New York. We have a pretty steady following there. But it's not like we're doing 2,000-seaters. We moved to Chicago just three months ago, and it's like the smartest thing we ever did."

Eschewing trends and studio tricks, the band (now with bassist Kevin Roberts and drummer Scott Freeman) has managed to forge a sound and an attitude that has the potential to endure long after Suffrajett's more scene-conscious contemporaries have become old news. That intrinsic timeless quality was something that impressed Wayne Kramer of the legendary MC5, with whom Suffrajett is now touring the country.

"He liked our record and just called our manager and asked if we'd do the tour," explains Chasko. "It was really cool to hear that. I mean, I was just really psyched to hear that he liked the record. That was enough for me."

Travelin' Man -- My friends and I have this joke about Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not really a joke so much as just something one of us said once that got a laugh and now gets repeated any time one of those good ol' John Fogerty songs comes over the radio. "Well you know," the routine begins, "Stu Cook was the real genius behind CCR."

CCR -- with guitarist brothers John and Tom Fogerty, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook -- were a great rock band that was (and still is) hugely popular. As such, they represented one of the few points in the timeline of rock 'n' roll where commercial success and artistic validity have intersected. Yet their broad popular appeal had virtually nothing to do with pandering or calculated marketing techniques. It had everything to do with the emotional, insightful and irresistibly catchy songwriting of bandleader John Fogerty.

What the other guys -- in particular the whiplash rhythm section of Clifford and Cook -- contributed was a firm foundation upon which Fogerty could build his three-minute miracles. And he built a bunch of them. From 1969-71, Creedence produced nine Top 10 Fogerty-penned singles, beginning with the seminal, tough-rocking "Proud Mary" and continuing with such unforgettable rabble-rousers as "Bad Moon Rising" and "Travelin' Band," toe-tappers like "Down on the Corner" and "Up Around the Bend" and sweet ballads like "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" They also cranked out eight gold albums in just four years, all featuring Fogerty's direct, vigorous arrangements and lyrics that were both provocative and poetic.

When CCR split up in 1972, Fogerty continued to record -- for a time as a bluegrass outfit under the moniker Blue Ridge Rangers, and later under his own name -- but eventually went on hiatus to spend more time with his family. He was also disillusioned with the music business after waging a seemingly endless struggle with CCR's recording label over royalties and song ownership. He re-emerged in the mid-'80s with the well-received Centerfield (containing the title hit and the murky "The Old Man Down the Road"). Fogerty remains a respected and fiery rock vet, one with the desire and the ability to do more with a performance than merely ease fans into nostalgia.

Expect fireworks.

Publication date: 07/01/04

Spokane Youth Symphony: Celebration @ The Fox Theater

Sun., Jan. 29, 4 p.m.
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