Written by Tracy Brandon
Aug 13, 2011 at 08:00 PM
When now veteran HMR photographer Mike Pittman asked me to accompany him to the Stevie Nicks concert on Saturday, August 13 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion to write a review of the concert I was extremely excited. I thought to myself what a great opportunity to combine two things I love doing, watching live music and writing.   Without hesitation I over zealously said yes.   Then over the next 18 hours, the time between the invitation and concert I began to have my doubts.

I’ve never written a concert review in my life. I questioned myself as to what I should write about, what are people actually interested in reading. I wondered if I should I be overcritical, or fun loving? Should I revert to my college days as the extreme note taker and document every single breath she takes, or will people just want to know which songs she played and how the weather and sound rounded out the evening.

Luckily, for me, my friend in music and partner in crime, Mike Pittman, took me under his wing. We arranged to meet at Chili’s near The Woodlands Mall for a pre-concert meal. He calmed my nerves by answering all of my questions (believe me there were many) about the style and content of the review. He was very gracious with tips on how to write a review for HMR. He also picked up the tab for dinner. Have I mentioned how much I love this guy?

After dinner, with pen and paper in hand, we joined forces in the Pittman-mobile and sped over to the Pavilion to collect our credentials and tickets for the evening. I have to mention that Pittman knows all of the ends and outs of the Pavilion. We had primo parking and got the royal treatment at the check in desk. The will call window where we picked up our tickets was the only thing that left a little to be desired.

After all of the rigmarole with the will call window, Pittman gave me my ticket and went off to join the other photographers for the walk of fame to the photog area. I walked through the gates to make my debut as an official music critic. A sea of enthusiastic fans who were enchanted by the decades of music Stevie Nicks has given to us and all that she embodies, quickly swept me up. The crowd was a mix of people of all ages, from late teens to late 60’s. The dress of the evening was anything from Stevie Nicks like garb, to polos and khakis, to beach wear, to the trend of the evening I noticed on many younger women, a sort of 1920’s flapper-esque hairpiece with short dresses and high heels. All were clamoring to get their hands on Stevie gear before the show commenced.

I made my way through the crowded beer, wine, and merch lines, and settled in my seat. What a seat it was! We were about the tenth row (yet another reason to travel with Pittman). I promptly got out my pen and paper and started to write down my observations of my fellow audience members to document their mood, the stage, the temperature (did I mention it was hot?), and braced myself for an evening of hand cramps from the feverish note taking that was about to ensue.

My first observation of the evening was that there were zero people on the lawn, and the covered section was only about 50% full at 7:45. I began to feel sorry for Stevie and thought that surely there must be some mistake. Could it be that THE Gypsy Rock Goddess had lost her touch. Is she heading to the wasteland of other tours where promoters over book and under deliver expectations? I was getting a little ahead of myself. After the opening act, Michael Grimm, was finished and the intermission was over, seating quickly filled up to almost capacity. (I found out at the end of the show that the lawn was intentionally closed to provide a more intimate setting for the audience, at least as intimate as you can get with 6500 fellow concertgoers.)

After taking my initial notes, two drunken women took their place a few seats away from me and pulled several airplane-size liquor bottles from their purses. I knew I was in for great night of people watching whether it be on stage or right next to me. At 8:59 the lights dimmed and the crowd roared. Stevie sauntered onto the stage promptly at 9:00PM and opened the show with “Stand Back”. Decked out in a glittery red and gold frock layered over a long sleeved tight bodice shirt and a layered lacey skirt that cascaded past her knees to her black platform boots, she looked as beautiful as ever. It was hard to believe that I was staring at a 63-year-old woman. Sixty must be the new thirty because she was in her prime Saturday night.

The night quickly became one filled with her signature twirling and costume changes, and bouts of standing up and sitting down by the audience. Personally, it reminded me of my experience in the Episcopal Church growing up. Throughout the evening it was stand, up, sit down, fight, fight, fight through the songs as the crowd was a little indecisive about their body positioning for the concert, just as the members of my church’s congregation stood up and sat down as we worked our way through the church service on any given Sunday morning.

After she finished “Stand Back” she announced that she was taking the liberty of adding new favorite songs to her repertoire, and that this show would not be like any other she had done in the past 15 years. A fantastic media presentation began that was driven by the songs of the evening. She took us through her standards such as “Secret Love”, which was heightened by her hypnotizing belly dance moves, “Dreams”, to “Moonlight” to “Sorcerer”, which she ended the song with a reflection of how the song, at that moment, had instantly took on another meaning for her as it reminded her of Amy Winehouse’s tragic life and death. It was great insight from a veteran rock-n-roller who has probably seen more than most.

By this time Pittman had joined me at our seats and quickly noted how rowdy and drunk our neighbors were. Stevie then introduced a song off her latest album “Soldier’s Angel” as she recanted the touching story of a life-changing visit to Walter Reed Hospital about four years ago. She captured the audience’s attention by telling a descriptive tale of the happenings on the fateful day she walked into Walter Reed the Rock-n-Roller Stevie Nicks with not a care in the world and walked out a soldier’s mother.

She hit her stride on the eighth song of the evening, a comparatively new one to her catalog, “Annabel Lee”, one the she proudly proclaimed that she wrote with Edgar Allan Poe. She had an ethereal presence as she powered through the ballad. By this time, she had completely connected with the audience, making me wish that I had a front row seat. A dramatic intro was staged for the crowd favorite “Rhiannon” as everyone stood again to show their loyalty with a sing-a-long to this Fleetwood Mac classic.

It was a roller coaster of emotion as she told another personal story her dad’s favorite song “Landslide”; which she dedicated to her parents. It was accompanied by a media presentation of photographs that documented her family history. She introduced her stellar band including her back-up singers and best friends, one of which is her sister-in-law, both who have stood by her since 1979.   It was impressive to hear the names of the talented musicians that formed her 10 piece band as she rattled off them off, such as long time friend Waddy Wachtel on lead guitar, Ricky Peterson on keyboards, and Al Ortiz on bass.

By the time she made it to the thirteenth song of the evening “Leather and Lace” she admitted to having almost no voice left which had been a problem for a few days.   Luckily for all of us, she had been working with her vocal coach and he came through two fold. He got her through the evening vocally and countered her on this lovely duet. It was nice to see her spotlight an otherwise behind the scenes cast member who has been with her since 1997.

About this time, Mike was lamenting over the poor sound quality and trying to ignore the now beyond drunken broads from which he was protecting me.   The final song of the set, Edge of 17, had an awkward ending that left me with the thought of a rushed, disorganized crew who were unsure if it was the end of the night or if there would be more.

At 10:38PM, the lights flashed down for a encore and she led an passionate crowd who clearly wanted more through “Love IS” a song she wrote in the 1990’s about her experience needing help. I was moved by a couple that seemed to stand all alone near the railing of the adjoining section who held hands and gazed onto the stage will Stevie sang through this one, it was a magical moment.

As she finished the encore to a standing ovation, she thanked the audience and said, “what a joy…I’ll never forgot this day.” Whether or not she ends every show with that sentiment, I do not know, but she seemed sincere. The show ended to the whole crew bowing and bright lights. I knew then that it was time to collect my pen, papers, and thoughts, wait for the drunken wenches to stumble off…assignment complete!

Final thoughts… Stevie powered through a show fraught by mediocre at best sound quality, intermittent vocal mic glitches, hot heat and a tired voice. However, her performance and the show were visually stimulating with multiple costume changes and video segments.   Overall, She put on a pure rock and roll show; which I excepted nothing less from the Midnight Goddess and raspy voiced Soulful Songstress that is Stevie Nicks.

Set list: “Stand Back”, “Secret Love”, “Dreams”, “Sorcerer”, “Moonlight”, “Gold Dust”, “Soldier’s Angel”, “Annabel Lee”, “For What It’s Worth”, “Rhiannon”, “Landslide”, “Ghosts Are Gone”, “Leather and Lace”, “Edge of 17”, with encore “Love Is”.