Stevie Nicks slumped against a microphone stand, steadying herself with both sparkly gloved hands, and bowed her head for 10 or 12 seconds as the final chords of “Landslide” rang out through Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium on Friday night.
Concluding her set on the opening date of a joint mini-tour with Billy Joel, the singer and gothic-hippie style icon had just performed her signature acoustic ballad in front of an enormous video screen showing photos of her with Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie, who died in November. We saw Stevie and Christine harmonizing; we saw them holding hands; we saw them whispering into each other’s ear, sharing some joke made only funnier by its secrecy. Now, Nicks — onstage for the first time since McVie’s death — lifted her head, her eyes seeming to glisten under the stadium lights.
“There’s really not much to say,” she told the tens of thousands in the crowd. “We just pretend that she’s just still here — that’s how I’m trying to deal with it.”
Finding new emotional purpose in well-worn material — in lines like those in “Landslide” about getting older after having built your life around someone — is probably the most you can ask of a veteran rock star on the road for the umpteenth time. It’s a way to keep the classic music alive, even (or especially) when it’s painful; it shows there’s use left in the old songs, not just for the audience but for the artist as well.
There are less noble reasons to tour, of course, some of which were in evidence Friday. Maybe you want to show off a voice, as Nicks did, that still sounds great at age 74 — low and smoky, with an imperiousness that can suddenly melt away to reveal pure need. Maybe you want to crack some dad jokes, as 73-year-old Joel did, about his lack of dance skills, just before his band struck up the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and he flailed around for a minute like an adult-aerobics Mick Jagger.
And maybe you want to make some money, as both stars certainly will on a leisurely run scheduled to touch down once a month or so through November. (Primo floor seats for the duo’s next concert, in Arlington, Texas, are available for $2,250 a pop.)
But for those watching, a moment like Nicks’ moving “Landslide” — its reminder that honesty and finesse can happen in the same place at the same time — is the reason to show up for an operation like this.
Do Joel and Nicks make for an odd combination? He’s Mr. New York, she an avatar of West Coast cool; his songs look back to the tidy structures of the Brill Building, hers the haunted romance of Welsh folklore. Yet each began racking up radio hits around the same time, in the mid-1970s: Two years after Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” was named album of the year at the Grammy Awards, Joel won the same prize with “52nd Street.”
More to the point, both singers outlasted the FM era to endure well into the MTV age — a testament to radio’s career-building power, sure, but also to their understanding the emergent value of a visual brand. At SoFi, Joel still scrunched up his bulldog’s face while Nicks kept twirling in her glittering shawl.
Besides, how much sense does a joint bill of boomers even need to make? (Recall that Nicks toured a decade ago with Rod Stewart, of all people.) As Joel told The Times in an interview last week, McVie was just one casualty of the war of attrition that time is waging against his generation. “Dropping Like Flies” was his joking title for the next possible tour. That would really only sharpen the catch-’em-while-you-can pitch embedded in “Two Icons — One Night,” as the current show is called.
Here they joined forces for a pair of unlikely duets: her “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” in which Joel sang the part made famous by the late Tom Petty; and his “And So It Goes,” for which they stationed themselves at opposite ends of Joel’s grand piano. Neither performance convinced you that they had finally found their musical soulmates; both performances made you glad nonetheless to see two artists reaching toward each other.
Other than “Landslide,” highlights of Nicks’ set included a lustrous “Sara,” which online record-keepers say she hadn’t performed solo for a decade and a half, and a juicy take on “If Anyone Falls” that led you to think about how much modern pop music Nicks was groundworking between the years of 1975 and 1983. (No “The Wild Heart,” no Miley Cyrus; no “Bella Donna,” no Lana Del Rey.)
Joel did that too with “Just the Way You Are,” which sounds now like a blueprint for guys like the Weeknd and Bon Iver and their ideas about the obsessions concealed by shimmering surfaces. Mostly, though, he seemed less interested in casting new light on his music than in showcasing its durability: Before “An Innocent Man,” he said he was worried about hitting the song’s high notes, then nailed each one — wouldn’t you know it? — with precision to spare.
His hits were many and varied, from “My Life” and “Movin’ Out” and “Allentown” to “Only the Good Die Young” and “The River of Dreams” and the inevitable “Piano Man.” For his encore Joel rose from behind his piano and grabbed a mike on a stand to belt out “Uptown Girl” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” as his band cranked the guitars. The songs were arguing that things never change — another fantasy to believe in even when you know better.