Not Exactly A Tea Party Here

Live at the Boston Tea Party Vols. I and II (Original Masters)
Fleetwood Mac,

By Jeff Kallman

For those who still manage to believe otherwise, Fleetwood Mac existed long before first Bob Welch and then the Buckingham-Nicks axis helped push the aggregation irrevocably into the pleasant but hardly inspiring winds of California air-rock. And the original Fleetwood Mac was one of the best blues-rooted bands in the business, not to mention one of the most popular in England and Europe, they sold records comparably to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles; in the U.S., they were one of the best-drawing live performance attractions in the business.

Unfortunately, they were also one of the most star-crossed bands in the business as well very soon after the performances which yielded up this disc set were recorded, lead guitarist/chief songwriter/founding father Peter Green was out and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was gone not long afterward Green to a twenty-something year sleepwalk in a haze of mental illness triggered by LSD, with only occasional stabs at recording; Spencer to the notorious Children of God religious cult ... and that was only the beginning of the Mac's peculiar ride up and down the seasons in hell!).

Which makes this set as much a last testament as anything else, but before those crackups, Fleetwood Mac stood for both solid and often expansive blues rock and a penchant for ribaldry which took on hilarious extremes while striding just short of the downright profane. (Recall, if you will, Spencer's habit of tying beer-filled condoms to the tuning keys on his guitar, cracking bawdy both during and between songs, and his rip-roaring parodies of original-era rockers.) And you get liberal doses of it on this set.

You also get several examples of why, when the clowning was kept to a dull roar, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac had such a looming reputation the playing is passionate, the band's triple guitar attack (Green's spare, fluid minor blues lines, Spencer's shivery slide guitar, Danny Kirwan's chunky chords and slick-fingered solos, responses, and harmonic lines) is in clean sync, clearly an inspiration, however accidental, upon the morass of harmony guitar and triple-guitar bands who snaked around the early-to-mid 70s; and, the rhythm section John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums) oils the machine just so and doesn't forget about cutting a clean groove no matter what the front line is up to.

"Black Magic Woman" kicks it off supremely, Green delivering his voodoo blues classic as though there is a hellhound on his trail (small wonder Carlos Santana thought he could do something with that song!) until the band turns fear to reality with a fierce shuffle rideout for Green to peel off one after another sleek but understated guitar line. "Like It That Way" has Green and Kirwan trading lines over a rip-snorting swing in a spry duel duet and Spencer sneaking in midway home with an almost snickering slide round. Spencer gets generous space for his rock parodies ("Keep A Knockin'" is positively salacious) and the band partakes with shameless abandon.

There are also two extended jams on Green's ribald "Rattlesnake Shake" the first one beats the Grateful Dead at their own game (which isn't hard if you consider the Dead at their least flighty couldn't cut a proper groove with a chain saw) and keeps things thematically consistent even when flying off into blues subspace. The second (on Vol. II) stumbles in portions Kirwan in places sounds like a nervous wreck, and Green and Spencer at times are uncertain about the themes they're hanging onto but is still worth hearing.

The end result is, those who were there will likely mourn that such a striking band imploded so prematurely, while those who were not but have wondered about their near-legend will get a better than expected taste of what justifies that legend.