Mark Knopfler – Live at Chastain

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I last saw Mark Knopfler at the same venue sometime before 2008, else I would have a review of that show on this blog.  It was an enjoyable show, one that demonstrated his abundant guitar skills, but, like his solo albums, a fairly tepid experience.  Dire Straits songs were rare, which was not nearly often enough to offset the weight of his more American/English folk based pursuits as a solo artist.  That was then.  This is now.

Mark Knopfler Chastain Amphitheater

It’s not that Dire Straits songs are better.  They’re certainly more familiar, but there’s an irony.  Dire Straits, however he adorned the music with his sidemen, was a vehicle for Knopfler’s songwriting and his guitar.  The parts were interchangeable.  Mark Knopfler, in his solo career, is about song crafting and making the most of his band’s musical gifts.  If you buy a Mark Knopfler concert ticket expecting the former, you’ll be disappointed.  If you buy a, more properly titled, Mark Knopfler Band ticket understanding the difference, you get what you paid for.

This show started well.  The quirky “Broken Bones” led the way, and “Corned Beef City,” “Privateering,” “Hill Farmer’s Blues,” and “Skydiver”  maintained a wakeful pace, each with its highlights.  Those songs would not be confused with fiery rockers or his current preference for pastoral odes to years of old, but… they’re good songs. 

Mark Knopfler Chastain Amphitheater

Following those with several Dire Straits songs brings a lift, possibly pointing to greater heights as the evening progresses, in any case abandoning the listlessness that I recalled at the previous show.  That’s a good thing, and although he doesn’t cut loose with his guitar, his expert fingering is demonstrated, albeit with an understanding that as you watch who plays what, a good portion of the more plucky guitar heard on his CDs was probably created by one of his band members.

About those Dire Straits songs… “Your Latest Trick” was beautiful.  “Romeo and Juliet” is always welcome and a favorite of many, but with a sound system that translates his hushed delivery to muddled mumbling, the song lacked the youthful exuberance it deserved.   Curiously, the song that launched his career he chose to include midway into the set, “Sultans of Swing.”  The more I listen to his live versions of this song, the more I’m convinced that he’s sick and tired of it, not to mention tired of trying to find ways to make it sound different.  Whereas usually I prefer to hear artists take their recorded work and interpret it differently when playing live, this song merits a hands off approach, or at least one that leaves its trademark licks fully intact.  In this version, it was almost an afterthought as he closed the song.

The Mark Knopfler Band was featured on “Mighty Man,” a fine song that doesn’t deserve stage time, hence the many who opted for the restrooms.  On other tour stops, he’s inserted “Haul Away” at this point, so we fared the better.  “Postcards from Paraguay” is always welcome, and it’s a song that ably demonstrated his band’s skills as well as one with an appealing melody… a happenstance that he doesn’t necessarily seek in his solo output.   “Marbletown” starts off well enough, but then it evolves into an extended instrumental feast for his band.  They’re good.  It’s pleasant music.  And there are those with micro-bladders walking in front of you again because they’re not what they came to hear.

Mark Knopfler Chastain Amphitheater

Similarly, when I hear him announce that the closing is near, and he explains his search for a song to properly suit his saxophonist’s skills, frankly, I’m disappointed.  You just consumed an extended 10 minutes featuring your band members.  Finish large. Play your friggin’ guitar.  Loud.  “On Every Street” was the choice, and it’s an enjoyable song that I listen to once in a blue moon, which is, all things considered about the right frequency for it.  The closer of the set was, thankfully,  “Speedway to Nazareth” a song that builds until it finally unleashes Knopfler’s loud friggin’ guitar.  Good stuff.

Mark Knopfler Chastain Amphitheater

Now, on the heels of that, what to do about that encore…  “Telegraph Road?”  “Skateaway?” “Tunnel of Love?” “Once Upon a Time in the West?”  Okay, maybe he’s already played too much of the “excavated occasional historical artifacts” he promised at the beginning of the show.  Well, how about “What it Is?” “Imelda?” “Coyote?” “Boom, Like That?” Or, perhaps a shocker like “I Think I Love You Too Much?”  So many great options, never mind the obvious “Money for Nothing.”

“So Far Away.”  Followed by an instrumental yawner.  Way to end with a thud.

In short, it’s not the songs or musicianship that disappoints, but the failure to recognize that audiences, at least in the venues he chooses to play, benefit from the Dire Straits approach.  Play with a superlative band, but keep in mind people didn’t pay to hear them.  Choose your songs accordingly.

3 of 5 STARS_thumb

 

Set list:

Broken Bones
Corned Beef City
Privateering
Father and Son (from the film “Cal”) – intro to:
Hill Farmer’s Blues
Skydiver
She’s Gone (from the film “Metroland”) – intro to:
Your Latest Trick
Romeo and Juliet
Sultans of Swing
Mighty Man
Postcards from Paraguay (slow build includes band intros)
Marbletown
On Every Street
Speedway at Nazareth

Encore

So Far Away
Going Home: Theme from Local Hero

4 comments :

  1. Wow, man you said it.

    But that is the unfortunate thing when a man creates so many great songs and he has only a limited time frame to play the ones that made it big. And this is the case here. I agree,,, and he has a polished band fortunately and the set list,,,,,,,,,,,,well............. it is what it is...

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  2. Good honest review, shame it seems to have wound GF up. Whilst I enjoyed the tour (in the UK) I found that there was not enough change between the Privateering tour and this one, far too much repetition given the close period since the last trip out. CBC, Privateering, I used to Could and perhaps even HFB (though I do like it) should all have been dropped IMHO for something a little different.

    I am not sure whether I can face the gamble of shelling out over £300 for my family to go again on the next tour and seeing the same run of tunes - though it just being my luck he will do a major overhaul...

    Finally, your point about Sultans is absolutely on the money. He tried dropping it last tour and faced considerable criticism from fans (particularly in Italy). Check out his opinion on the "twiddly bits" here: http://www.wharf.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/mark-knopfler-set-play-dire-9304250

    I think that says it all and backs up your theory...

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    Replies
    1. Great review - so on target. I just saw MK and band in Red Bank, NJ and Philadelphia, PA. I've been going to the shows on every tour of the U.S. since 2005. I think MK is a brilliant guitar player and songwriter, love his band, and appreciate that with such a vast catalog of material, it is not easy to always come up with a set list that will please all tastes. Nonetheless, these recent shows were the first time, ever, that I came away feeling that MK was not at his best.

      The band was tight and polished, the sound fabulous, but there was never that moment where everything just clicked and.. rocked. That moment where you realize on some gut level why you love this artist so much, and have that total connection with the music. Don't really know how to describe it.

      When the above reviewer says the show was "tepid", I feel that pretty much hits the nail on the head. The set list was pretty tame and kept everything kind of restrained. I should say that narrow as it may sound, I feel that a Mark Knopfler show without TR is incomplete. Well, we did not get TR this time. A lot of good new songs left out, as well. I was happy to hear OES - but the sax drowned out the beautiful bell like guitar that closes the song.

      Anyway, I agree with the review and feel a bit relieved that I'm not the only MK admirer who came away feeling that he was not at his best this time around.

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  3. I've been to events at other places, but this was my first time in here. Great event venue. Food was good and seating was very comfortable. Also, very good view from where I sat. This is such a cool venue and the atmosphere was equally amazing.

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