I am a firm believer that when you decide to see a classic rock artist perform in concert, they should play their most popular hits. After all, with the type of money these acts are charging their fans to see them live, it’s the least they can do. That was my mindset anticipating the arrival on stage of guitarist Mark Knopfler, the genius behind Dire Straits.
You can imagine my utter dismay and outright shock that tonight’s show would only include five Dire Strait songs. Instead of hearing tunes like “Tunnel of Love”, “Expresso Love” or “Skateaway”, the set list would consist mainly of Knopfler’s solo material covering six albums I had never heard of. At least my Dire Straits thirst would somewhat be quenched with “Romeo & Juliet” and “Money for Nothing.” The absence of the immortal beloved “Sultans of Swing” was the unforgivable sin.
Or so I thought.
My profane ignorance of the music written under the Mark Knopfler banner, as it turned out, was the ultimate sin. When the former Brit – I say former because the guitarist now speaks without a hint of an accent – retired the Dire Straits name in 1996 to go it alone, I literally abandoned him as well. It’s a mistake I would deeply regret.
As I was complaining out loud to myself about the absence of “Sultans of Swing” from the set list, the guy sitting next to me asked if I had ever listened to any of Mark Knopfler’s solo material. I confessed I had not. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re going to be surprised.” I told him I rather doubted that and don’t be surprised if I left shortly after the show began.
After the first three songs, “Why Aye Man”, “Corned Beef” and “Sailing to Philadelphia”, I had no intention of leaving. I literally sat in my seat in dumbstruck awe at the music I had just heard. The songs were nothing short of brilliant. Honestly, I sat in total embarrassment as well. I had been totally clueless to Knopfler’s afterlife as a solo artist and there was no excuse for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wish the guitarist had chosen other Dire Strait songs to perform other than “Once Upon a Time in the West”, “Your Latest Trick” and “On Every Street”. However, as the evening wore on, I found myself craving even more music from any of Knopfler’s nine solo efforts. That’s how mesmerizing the music they did present was.
The ten-piece backing band was beyond exceptional. Every musician on stage was literally a group unto themselves. Almost all backing musicians are literally that. Their job is to dutifully play the music in relative obscurity. That certainly wasn’t the case here.
All ten musicians accompanying a rather subdued Knopfler were sterling multi-instrumentalists whose individual talents added incredible depth and feeling to their boss’s solo material. Even the backing vocals – and lead when called for – seemed right. Again, I kicked myself throughout the entire night for my total lack of appreciation and knowledge of the brilliant solo material unfolding before my eyes.
Ah yes, let’s not forget Mr. Mark Knopfler himself. As I stated earlier, he abandoned the group name back in 1996. When you write and compose every single song you can do that. That gutsy move was especially noteworthy considering the significant amount of album sales he lost going out under his own name. As I listened to his easy banter with the crowd between songs, I slowly came to understand that the fame, the lifestyle as well as the platinum sales of his former life actually had made the guitarist uncomfortable. Replacing the Dire Straits billing with his own name was the artist’s means of saying goodbye to all of that.
Knopfler’s ‘walk of life’ also allowed him to indulge his love for various musical genres. That was evident by the selection of material he performed for the very appreciative crowd that roared its approval after ever song ended. I discovered that my ignorance of his solo work was more bliss than anything because I was on my own road to discovery about this remarkable guitarist. When you can go to a concert and experience that kind of euphoria, you can’t put any kind of price tag on that.
As the band left the stage before the night’s encores began, I leaned over and shook the hand of the guy sitting next to me to say thank you. I was not only pleasantly surprised at what I had witnessed, but in awe of the music from one of the world’s most unheralded and overlooked guitarists. Not anymore.
– David Huff