When Jeans 'n Classics comes to perform with the Omaha Symphony, its members say they're out to pay tribute to the evening's featured rock act without trying to be a "tribute band" that mimics the original band's sound or even its looks.
Their admonition was most appropriate Saturday night, when seven performers from the Canadian-based organization joined the symphony in presenting most of the best-known hits from Fleetwood Mac's heyday of the 1970s and 1980s.
Their two-hour collaboration was expertly done and coincidentally offered a pleasant counterpoint to the gorgeous evening that capped Omaha's unusually warm month of March. Even so, the program generally seemed to be lacking a particular spark, notably in the first act but also when the band's vocalists returned to the Holland Performing Arts Center stage for their single planned encore, "Don't Stop."
If one recalls Fleetwood Mac's back story, however, the missing element becomes easier to define. The band's unique studio and stage chemistry long has been traced to creative, romantic and personal tensions among the members of its classic quintet. Furthermore, Fleetwood Mac had not one particular sound but three, resulting from the individual songwriting and solo singing talents of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie.
To expect successive performers to capture all those intangibles amounts to an unfair standard. They need to be judged on their own merits, though that job was more difficult Saturday night because each of the three vocalists generally — though not entirely — sang the vocal lines associated with a particular original band member.
That inevitably cast Jeans 'n Classics singer Neil Donell in the Buckingham role — but the Montreal-based singer proved up to the task. Donell used his four-octave range to good effect in reaching for Buckingham's melodic peaks in "Big Love" and "The Chain." The latter song, which opened the second act, came closest to capturing Fleetwood Mac's passion and energy.
Brunette Rique Franks mostly took on Nicks' vocals, while Kathryn Rose — black-haired in the concert program but pale blonde Saturday night — usually sang McVie's lines. Both brought somewhat of a country feel to their vocal performances, a connection admitted by Jeans 'n Classics' pianist and spokesman John Regan before the band and the symphony covered "Landslide" in the style of the Dixie Chicks' remake.
Franks' and Rose's approach generally works, however, because the California rock sound of the '70s often translates well to a Nashville groove. Rose did capture something of McVie's emotions in singing "Oh Daddy" and "Songbird." Meanwhile, Franks tapped into the alluring but reflective qualities of Nicks' best singing and songwriting in "Dreams," "Leather and Lace" (with Donell channeling original Nicks duet partner Don Henley) and most notably in "Sara."
Saturday's arrangements offered few spotlight ensemble moments for resident conductor Ernest Richardson and the symphony. But the woodwind section offered sweet accompaniment in "Songbird" and "Leather and Lace," while the strings enhanced the melancholy nature of "Oh Daddy," McVie's piece about a co-dependent relationship.