Mark Knopfler

October 23, 2013
Terrace Theatre
Long Beach, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

Not sure why Mark Knopfler chose Long Beach to open a short west coast tour, but I’m sure glad he did. I never saw Dire Straits back in the day, but admired them from afar. “Sultans Of Swings” is a song I always turn up when it comes on the radio, and I had to own Brothers In Arms because it was an ALL digital recording, a rarity back in 1985. Dire Straits broke up nearly 20 years ago, so I knew tonight wasn’t going to be Dire Straits’ greatest hits. I expected a couple songs and got three. And the rest of the set was filled with equally immersive music from Knopfler’s prolific solo career, including his 2013 double CD release, Privateering.

Opening with “What It Is,” from Sailing From Philadelphia, the guitarist was armed with a red Stratocaster (one of the many guitars he would play) and backed by an incredible seven-piece band that included Guy Fletcher (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Richard Bennett (guitar, bouzoukis, caviquiño), Glenn Worf (bass), Mike McGoldrick (flute, penny whistle, pipes, cittern), John McCusker (violin, cittern), Ian Thomas (drums) and Jim Cox (piano, organ, accordion), whom Knopfler introduced as a Long Beach native.

The stage was filled with more strings, horns, keyboards, percussion and do-dads than you can imagine, but everyone had a job, some playing several different instruments over the course of the roughly 100-minute set. There was “Corned Beef City” from Privateering, a slip and sliddin’ swamp rocker on which Knopfler played slide on a classic Danelectro 59-DC Standard, with Bennett and McGoldrick on acoustic and McCluster on mandolin.

There was a little chatter, here and there, mostly songs requests. “I’m not going to play it,” he said to no one in particular. “We’d be here all night.” He got more applause with that. After telling a heckler to speak English, he fell into “Father and Son,” from the Cal soundtrack. McGoldrick lead the way on uilleann pipes, that along with the flow of acoustics, accordion and violin, gave this Celtic-flavored piece a truly rich and dramatic sound.

This Celtic folk vibe would permeate the night, lining the melody of the enchanting “King Of Gold” and infusing the solemn “Haul Away” with heart and soul. If you came expecting to hear Knopfler rip out one stalwart lead after another — fleeting and infrequent, yet always glorious — you were at the wrong concert. The screaming slide on “Gator Love” got ‘em all excited at one point, but if you could handle the ebb and flow, you’d recognize enough moments of sheer brilliance and musicality to last a lifetime.

One of those came when Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” was slowing brought to life and the room fell into a deep trance. Knopfler was on his famous National Resonator, gently plucking out the sacred notes and nothing else mattered. A subtle salsa beat drove “Postcards From Paraguay” to the end of the runway, while “Telegraph Road” solidified the evening as Knopfler once again applied the fluttering notes on his Resonator, with Cox’s piano work swaying through the song’s sublime cadence.

The encore began with “So Far Away” to the delight of the standing crowd (seated for most of the show). This is where Knopfler, once again with the red Start, peeled off those trademark pickless leads with that tone he’s so well known for. To really end things properly required an easy stroll through “Our Shangri-La,” followed by a harrowing, climactic slice of “Going Home (Theme of the Local Hero),” from the Local Hero soundtrack, the first of many that Knopfler would write music for.

Clearly, from the new wave days of the late 70s to present-day mastery, Mark Knopfler has evolved into a world-class singer, songwriter and guitarist of the highest caliber. He surrounds himself with what he often refers to as the greatest musicians in the world, many of them with him since the 90s (Fletcher joined Dire Straits in 1984 and has been working with Knopfler ever since). It might have been a better night if he had played “Sultans Of Swing” and “Money For Nothing,” but for a complete of concert of exquisite musicianship and well-crafted songs, it was about as close to perfection as you could get.

 

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