"We are here for a couple of reasons," Lindsey Buckingham announced a couple of songs into his performance Monday night at the Paramount Theatre, quickly addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room. After the obligatory but kind assurance that one reason was because "we love Austin," he got to the point: "Another is that we're not out with Fleetwood Mac. So I guess we don't love them."
The masterful guitarist, songwriter and producer's dismissal from that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band earlier this year inevitably is a big part of the context for his current tour. Bitterness turned into litigation last month when Buckingham filed suit against his former bandmates, who are also on tour right now with new members Mike Campbell and Neil Finn and will play Austin's Erwin Center in February.
Still, the music was far too good on Monday for the melodrama to be the only focus of the night. Buckingham was always the strongest creative force in Fleetwood Mac, and as such, he's the musician most worth hearing on his own. A nearly two-hour set with plenty of highlights and an adept four-piece backing band testified to that.
MORE PHOTOS: A-list gallery of Lindsey Buckingham at the Paramount
Buckingham smartly honed in on his 1992 masterpiece "Out of the Cradle," playing six songs from that album (even while skipping its best single, "Countdown"). Exquisite mood pieces "Street of Dreams" and "Surrender the Rain" showcased the more delicate side of Buckingham's artistry, and the sweetly swinging "Soul Drifter" sounded so enchanting that it was hard to believe it didn't become a massive hit 25 years ago.
"Trouble," the lone song played from Buckingham's 1981 solo debut "Law & Order," remains the only top-10 single he's ever had on his own. But he's released six solo studio albums, and he drew from each of them on this night, with three standouts from 2006's "Under the Skin" suggesting it may be the second-best album of his career.
"Shut Us Down" from that record, starting quietly but building to a passionate crescendo, kicked off a three-song mid-set stretch without the band. As solid as Buckingham's supporting cast is, the solo step-out was probably the highlight of the entire show, especially a mesmerizingly intense rendition of "Never Going Back Again." Taken from Fleetwood Mac's 1977 blockbuster album "Rumours," its message may resonate even deeper with Buckingham now.
He returned to "Rumours" for the set-closing "Go Your Own Way," wrapping a three-song Fleetwood Mac finale that also included his jungle-beat signature tune "Tusk" and the guitar-shredding showcase "I'm So Afraid." The latter seems to be a staple of Buckingham's repertoire — he played it with Fleetwood Mac at the Erwin Center in 2015, and again last year with Mac keyboardist Christine McVie at Bass Concert Hall — but I wish he'd give it a rest. Buckingham is an extraordinarily agile and inventive guitarist, as his playing demonstrated many times on this night. But "I'm So Afraid" is the kind of plodding six-string sludgefest that most any run-of-the-mill hotshot guitar slinger could wail on.
Indeed, far better than the obvious Mac-focused main-set finale was a three-song encore that included "Down on Rodeo" and "Treason," two lovely acoustic numbers from his more recent solo records. The latter, which closed the show, was on Buckingham's 2008 album "Gift of Screws" and thus clearly wasn't written to address either his ex-bandmates or present political circumstances. Yet its placement at the very end of the night suggested that Buckingham very much wanted its message to resonate, on the night before election day: "At the end of the season, we will rise from this treason."
Opening act J.S. Ondara, a singer-songwriter originally from Kenya, was quite impressive in a 40-minute set that drew from his not-yet-released debut album. Titled "Tales of America," it's due out in February, and judging from his performance on this night, it just might make him a household name in this country, or at the very least get him on the "Austin City Limits" TV show soon. Playing acoustic guitar and singing in a rich, resonant high tenor, Ondara joked with the crowd between songs — perhaps a bit too much, as he got in just six tunes in 40 minutes. Still, he held the audience rapt throughout.
Lindsey Buckingham set list:
Don't Look Down ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Go Insane ("Go Insane," 1984)
Surrender the Rain ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Not Too Late ("Under the Skin," 2006)
Doing What I Can ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Trouble ("Law & Order," 1981)
I Must Go ("Go Insane," 1984)
Street of Dreams ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Shut Us Down ("Under the Skin," 2006)
Never Going Back Again (Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," 1977)
Big Love (Fleetwood Mac's "Tango in the Night," 1987)
In Our Own Time ("Seeds We Sow," 2011)
Slow Dancing ("Go Insane," 1984)
Soul Drifter ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Holiday Road ("Vacation" soundtrack, 1983)
Tusk (Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," 1979)
I'm So Afraid (Fleetwood Mac self-titled, 1975)
Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," 1977)
Turn It On ("Out of the Cradle," 1992)
Down on Rodeo ("Under the Skin," 2006)
Treason ("Gift of Screws," 2008)