Fleetwood Mac reunites at Madison Square Garden. Getty Images

New York

Veteran rock artists are left with two honorable choices on how to extend their concert careers: play old music with renewed vigor, or perform new music with a sprinkling of old hits in the mix. Last week Fleetwood Mac took the first approach at Madison Square Garden, while Robert Plant—who could have filled an arena—took the second approach at a much more intimate venue, Brooklyn Bowl.

Fleetwood Mac’s Oct. 6 concert was a robust recitation of familiar tunes from the group’s commercial glory days of 1975-87. Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass remain the supple spine of their namesake band, founded in 1967. With Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks out front and the return of Christine McVie after a 16-year absence, the lineup from the act’s years of pop stardom was together again.

Playing material it hadn’t touched since her departure, the core quintet, backed by five musicians and singers, appeared energized. In a phone conversation on Friday, Mr. Buckingham, who at 65 is the youngest member of Fleetwood Mac, said working again with Ms. McVie has revitalized the band.

At the Garden, Ms. McVie’s songs retained their feathery center, and her burnished-by-the-blues voice was flawless on a dreamy “Over My Head.” Mr. Buckingham’s guitar snaked around her as she sang “You Make Loving Fun,” a bit of mid-1970s funk.

A fan favorite, Ms. Nicks seemed by turns delighted and detached, but her “Seven Wonders” was a highlight. Her compositions “Rhiannon” and “Gold Dust Woman” provided the springboard for some of the evening’s best instrumental exchanges, in which Mr. McVie was a revelation. A busy bassist who never intrudes, throughout the evening he provided buoyant support for the vocalists. In “I’m So Afraid,” the lone song in the set that nodded toward the group’s early days as a blues-based dynamo, he and Mr. Fleetwood rumbled in tandem, reviving one of rock’s sweetest sounds while Mr. Buckingham soloed furiously.

From the Garden stage, Mr. Buckingham spoke of Fleetwood Mac as a “band that continues to evolve.” There wasn’t much evolution on display during the 24-song performance, but he was looking ahead. He and Ms. McVie have recorded new material; when the tour concludes at the end of March 2015, he expects Ms. Nicks will bring songs to the studio and a new Fleetwood Mac album will emerge. Then, he added, the band can think about performing its latest songs in concert. Though the rabid audience at Madison Square Garden would probably disagree, Fleetwood Mac could use a touch of the new to avoid the perception that mining the past is all it can do.


In the decades since Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980, Robert Plant has released 10 studio albums, including the new “Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar” (Nonesuch), as well as live recordings and discs with Alison Krauss and former Zeppelin partner Jimmy Page. At age 66, Plant seems to understand that Zeppelin was a product of its time—a time long gone. He has refused offers to participate in a Zeppelin reunion, and his body of work suggests he knows that present-day rock owes a debt to the genre’s predecessors. Written and recorded with his new band, the Sensational Shape Shifters, “Lullaby” name-checks Charley Patton and includes adaptations of standards performed by Lead Belly and the Stanley Brothers. (He also quotes a line he wrote for Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” released in 1969.) Traditional West African instruments blend with a banjo, upright bass, synthesizers and standard rock gear.

On Friday, shortly after midnight, Mr. Plant performed at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley and music club in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn with a capacity of about 600. Delivering with potency new, old and older songs, his group used the sound template of the current album to revise tunes by Willie Dixon and Bukka White; “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” split the difference between Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 version and Zeppelin’s take. A fierce version of “Tin Pan Valley” from Mr. Plant’s 2005 album, “Mighty ReArranger,” gave the band a chance to roar, as did White’s “Fixin’ to Die,” a showcase for guitarist Justin Adams.

In a playful mood, Mr. Plant toyed with the audience while introducing the songs he co-wrote for Zeppelin. Of “Going to California,” he said: “It must be a folk song. It’s so f****** old.” And he asked, “Ready for another folk song?” before launching into a reinvented “Rock and Roll.” Wiping away the original’s bombast, the band performed “Black Dog” with an African fiddle, banjo and ghostly slide guitar. Then it altered the time signature for a jam that delighted Mr. Plant, who is the very rare rock star who has reclaimed his compositions and returned them to his audience in new, rejuvenated forms. Would that more of his peers follow his lead.

Mr. Fusilli is the Journal’s rock and pop music critic. Email him at jfusilli@wsj.com and follow him on Twitter @wsjrock.