Live review: Lindsey Buckingham at the Town Hall

Photograph: Laal Shams

Between songs at the Town Hall on Tuesday night, Lindsey Buckingham spoke wryly of the big and small machines that have governed his career. The former was of course Fleetwood Mac, the protean pop outfit that Buckingham joined in the mid-'70s and subsequently helped transform into a megaseller. The latter, as was clear from the large number of empty seats, was Buckingham's solo career, which he likened to a Hollywood director's side gig crafting commercially iffy yet artistically fulfilling indies. Throughout the show, Buckingham deftly balanced the familiar with the fresh—including plenty of songs from his new record, the intermittently great Seeds We Sow—powering through the less fan-friendly segments with a riveting fierceness.

That edge was most apparent during the opening portion of the concert, which featured Buckingham alone onstage with an acoustic guitar (or rather, guitars, since an assistant brought him a new ax after each song). It's hard to know whether Buckingham feels he has something to prove—after three decades with the Mac, he's still far less famous than his bandmate Stevie Nicks—but he played with a near-demonic intensity, showing off his spiky, locomotive-style fingerpicking technique and still-deadly howl. Buckingham turned "Go Insane" (the new-wavey title track to his 1984 sophomore album) into a haunted meditation, and reached peak intensity on a barreling version of Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love." Folky Rumours lark "Never Going Back Again" showed up in impressionistic guise, with Buckingham stretching out each syllable of the verses to build maximum tension.

By comparison, the second act couldn't help but feel like a bit of a letdown. A sympathetic but generic backing band joined Buckingham here, and at times (as during the limp finale, "Treason"), the set conformed to the pejorative soft-rock designation that sometimes dogs the Mac. But there were many bright spots, including an unexpected airing of the perversely rollicking "Tusk" (see our 2006 Buckingham feature for some reflections on the famously unwieldy album of the same name), upbeat Seeds We Sow selections "Illumination" and "That's the Way Love Goes" (a song that features one of the year's best choruses, a rousingly punky stomp), and a version of "I'm So Afraid" (from 1975's Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham's debut with the band), highlighted by a mind-melting Buckingham guitar solo—like David Gilmour gone postal.

Of course, a few Mac favorites popped up as well, including "Second Hand News" and "Go Your Own Way," both of which brought the crowd to a dancing-in-the-aisles frenzy. But it's to Buckingham's credit that he sustained interest even—especially, even—when he dispensed with the crowd-pleasing. This artist may have risen to prominence as one fifth of a highly collaborative group, but as he demonstrated last night, he has no trouble carrying the show all by himself.