Mark Knopfer has his reasons for retiring the Dire Straits tag, and his solo albums have studiously avoided the sort of guitar pyrotechnics that built a huge worldwide following for this amazingly talented player. However in concert, even now, fourteen years on since the last proper Dire Straits album, the distinction is irrelevant. Knopfler live is Dire Straits, regardless of who's manning the bass, drums, and keyboards. The solo material which on record often cries out for more guitar, gets fleshed out in concert with all the guitar that's lacking in the studio versions. The Dire Straits classics are well represented in the set too and Knopfler still kills on every one.
The concert production on this tour is a good as it gets; superb lighting with numerous color schemes to delight the eyes. More importantly, the concert sound was the best I've ever heard; loud and powerful when it needed to be with nice deep bass, with a perfect mix that allowed every instrument to be heard clearly, which was especially impressive during the songs that mixed acoustic backing with Knopler's electric lead. At one point I noticed Guy Fletcher stage rear, lightly tapping a tambourine which could amazingly be clearly heard in the sound mix.
Knopfler is becoming the elder statesman of the electric guitar, with his graying hair and glasses his look reminded me of Eric Clapton one minute, and Chet Atkins the next. Appearing relaxed in jeans and black t-shirt, he makes playing the guitar look deceptively easy, the amazing leads seeming to pour effortlessly from his guitar.
The Mann has a strict no-camera, search-on-entry policy, but these fan shots from the website are from the current tour and look exactly like the show here. It occurred to me during "Sultans of Swing" that we've been listening to this song for twenty-seven years now and it has never sounded better; Knopfler added a nice rockabilly style solo for a good couple of minutes to finish the song. Opening the show was Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy who delivered a suprisingly enjoyable set, accompanied by an excellent electric guitarist, resulting in a sound that reminded of a sort of Irish Chris Isaak.
Here's the Knopfler setlist:
- Why Aye Man - I've never quite understood this lead song from The Ragpicker's Dream, and musically it's seems not to be one of his best but he played some great guitar in this live version.
- Walk of Life - No waiting for some classic Dire Straits off the Brothers in Arms album, played with string bass, acordian, Hammond organ, and acoustic guitar backing with Knopfler on electric.
- What it Is - Nice version of one of the singles from Sailing to Philadelphia, setting the table nicely for...
- Sailing to Philadelphia - With a perfect sound mix of acoustic backing and truly beautiful guitar work from Knopfler. The Philly crowd loved it.
- Romeo and Juliet - Knopfler played the National Steel acoustic on this Dire Straits classic from the Making Movies album, switching to electric for the finish.
- Sultans of Swing - The song that started it all back in 1978. Paul pointed out that he's now performing the song as originally produced, with no keyboards - just two guitars, bass and drums.
- Done With Bonaparte - An all-acoustic tune from Golden Heart. See photo below.
- Song for Sonny Liston - An unlikely choice for the first tune from his latest release, Shangri-La. Knopfler sat down and was served a cup of tea, then remained seated, playing accompanied by only string bass and drums, and cranked up a very powerful sound.
- Donegan's Gone - A very twangy tribute to skiffle-king Lonnie Donegan, also from the latest album.
- Boom, Like That - Completing the Shangri-La portion of the show with the single, Knopfler adding a killer lead.
- Speedway at Nazareth - Maybe he thinks that here in the U.S. we're all nuts for NASCAR, but this unlikely selection from Sailing to Philadelphia, almost like a racing car, was fast, loud, and built in intensity to the finish, but didn't really go anywhere.
- Telegraph Road - The payoff for the lesser songs, this was the full length Dire Straits classic, all 15 minutes as heard on Love Over Gold, with enough Knopfler guitar leads to justify the admittedly high price of admission, all by itself.
- Brothers in Arms - For the first encore, Knopfler's all time best song in terms of both songwriting and guitar work. The lead solo that forms the basis of this song is Knopfler at his best.
- Money for Nothing - Without changing guitars, and no preamble, Knopfler launched right into this crowd-pleaser to complete the encore. The band did their best Sting impression with the "I Want My MTV" part at the end of the song.
- So Far Away - A nice choice for a second encore, from the classic Brothers in Arms album. Sent the fans home well satisfied with a great performance.