Mark Knopfler – Live at Chastain


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
Father and Son (from the film “Cal”) – intro to:
Hill Farmer’s Blues
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)
On Every Street
Speedway at Nazareth


So Far Away
Going Home: Theme from Local Hero


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Sycamore Brewing


Charlotte keeps adding quality breweries, and/or there’s another quality brewery to sample with every visit, it seems.  Personally, even though Asheville claims itself to be a beer capital (with some stature by Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, large craft breweries who have built regional facilities), I favor what Charlotte has going on by a wide margin.  Sycamore Brewing, like so many in Charlotte, occupies an old building that lies within convenient rich of young and the restless who are reclaiming old and worn out parts of town and making them hip.  All of which is to say that suburbia doesn’t stand a chance against pseudo in-town living when it comes to ease of access to cool places like this.


Sycamore doesn’t strive after a particular style of beer and offers a varied lineup.  Several weeks ago, they just won a bronze medal for its “Southern Girl Lager” at the insanely competitive Great American Beer Festival… which I might have tried, but I visited before the competition.


I opted for a “flight” sampler, including the Countryside IPA, Countryside IPA, Peak Farm DIPA, Foxhound American Ale,  and the Salty Coconut Red Ale.  The IPA underwhelmed but was more than made up for by the DIPA, which was excellent. This is why you try samplers, right?  The Foxhound is the redder beer, and it was good in every respect.  The Red Ale was not as black as the picture suggests, and it was my favorite of the batch, with good hops and a sweetness perhaps from coconut, but certainly not an aroma.  Really good variety here.



Like breweries everywhere, it seems, they draw a crowd on weeknights, and I’ll plan on returning again for my two favorites and to sample others.  Nice venue, good vibe.



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The Reckoners

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I used to really, really love comic books. Then some smart whippersnapper came along and changed the art style in a way that emphasized an uninteresting style over decades of appealingly constructed substance.  Oh,Sanderson and the price kept increasing.  And, of course, I grew up. 

Then computer generated graphics made everything once imagined possible on the big screen (Spiderman and every other Marvel since.  And a couple of DC ones), and soon after even the small screen was suitable for adequately stealing the imagination of what happened between panels in the comics and replacing it with continuous action.  And, I’m okay with that because it feeds the kid in me.

Now let’s detour to Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy, two (so far) books into another series within the same “universe” but in a future time, Elantris, and two (thick) books into The Stormlight Archive, which may turn out to be in my top two fantasy series ever.  Oh, and he rescued the overly lengthy and wearing Wheel of Time Series by wrapping it up in a comparatively speedy time by writing a three book finale after the original author passed away (14 total books by the time it was finally put to bed).  I haven’t bothered with a teen series of books, but… sheesh, he’s only 39 and continues to amaze with his cleverness and dedication to making everything in his story worlds fit together.  A really, really good author.

And so it was that my daughter accidentally left a book in my car when I visited her.  So, I’ll pat myself on the back by not being intimidated by a book that, factually, arrives from MIT.


Everyone needs to blow off steam, and.. MIT is loaded with geeks, right?  So, imagine a world where (no plot spoilers) something happens and ordinary people are suddenly granted super powers. Except… they all become super villains.  No heroes.  What’s a world to do other than to suffer the injustice of self-serving wannabe demi-gods? 

Well, two phrases.  The first comes from the book, “Sometimes, you have to help the heroes along.”  Secondly, Sanderson’s own guidance that when writing, always “err on the side of awesome.”  Sanderson consistently builds great heroes, not to mention the surrounding casts.  These books, and an intermediate novella called Mitosis, are the reader’s equivalent of junk food, professionally crafted, stir sticks of the imagination.  For anyone who enjoyed comics, I recommend these books, and read them soon, before they come to a theater near you (Steelheart’s rights are already purchased).  Oh, and a third (and hopefully not final) book in the series is due in the spring, named Calamity.  Note:  This is technically a “young adult” series.  So, so what?

5 of 5 STARS[3]

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Riverside–Love, Death & The Time Machine

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Two and a half minutes into Riverside’s new CD, they finally find a pulse.  Listening through the remainder, I don’t find the instrumental nuggets or the expansive tracks I found in 2013’s Shrine of New Generation Slaves.  What I hear is a more mature and measured delivery with almost pop sensibilities. The production stops the guitar fromriverside-love-fear-and-the-time-machine review cutting and soaring across the keyboards and vocals.  The muscular attack that propelled their songs has been lost or otherwise bow to lead singer Mariusz Duda’s almost hushed vocals.  It’s not what I was expecting.

That said, often things come your way that you weren’t expecting that turn out to be pretty good.  Fast forward 15 or so listens, and I quite like this CD.  There’s not a single track that really stands out, but as a whole, it works.  A song too slow?  It’ll speed up.  Missing those rock guitar leads?  They’ll come.  The secret in the sauce is to follow Duda’s bass, let it lead you through the moods then appreciate how the band and Duda’s vocals flow around it.  The production still frustrates, though.  It’s one of those recordings that is so sonically compressed that it’s impossible to play it too loud.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but it mutes moments when their should be emotional peaks, such as in “Lost…” where the guitar tries to raise its voice after Duda (relatively speaking) shouts “…neverland.  Oh!”  Still, it’s very pretty music, and there’s ample instrumentation to satisfy.  It just feels a little emasculated.


Lyrically, Duda continues to write observations that one might easily confer upon someone who prefers to wear a hoodie when in public, hiding in the shadows, not freely entering the world so to speak… like his own tendency.  He pretty well spells it out:

There’s a mask upon my face
I can’t live without
So you won’t recognize me
When I am in the crowd
I lost my calmness in the world
Where everything is searchable


We hear regrets of  choosing the lesser path, feeling unworthy of better things, and lack of self-confidence. 

Hewn from happiness
In your fabletown
You’re still afraid of
Starting something new this life


I was tired of suppressing all of my needs
I wanted to belong to the cloudless sky
Not to the shaded ground

These are not quite balanced by the exhortations to step forward and live life more fully. 

Discard your fear of the unknown
Be here and now
Just find yourself in peace
Try to free your mind
Wake up
Get unstuck
Let it go
Send your shame to nevermore

All in all… you don’t even have to pay attention to the lyrics to enjoy this CD.  I didn’t.  I had no idea what he was singing about until I decided how I felt about this CD.  Overall, the band has never sounded more unified, free of its excesses in search of what is “Metal” or “Prog.”  They’re sounding more and more like their own band, rather than rattling their influences for all to see.  That’s good.  They just need a new generation producer who has absorbed the influences of Bob Ezrin or Glyn Johns to make a more emphatic statement.  Despite it all, it’s hard not to like.

4 of 5 STARS_thumb


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Old Mecklenberg Brewery

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My latest visit to Charlotte allowed a visit to probably their most successful brewery, Old Mecklenberg.  Opening in 2009, the brewery features German styled beers.


From the street, it looks like most other breweries, but as you enter, you get a sense of the Biergarten, both indoors and out.



The brewery has 8 acres, which aside from ample tables, seems to welcome dogs and kids.  There’s certainly room to play.


They also offer a limited menu, mostly of a German bent.  I opted for a spicy sausage (Stiglmeier Gyulai) and Kielbasa, along with Bratkartoffeln (potatoes and bacon mixture) and German Potato Salad.   Service was swift and excellent.


To the left is their Captain James Jack Pilsner, which was…nicely ordinary, a break from the hop bombs that I’m more frequently tasting.  Better yet was the Fat Boy Baltic Porter.   Sadly, though a fairly heavy  hitter and a beer enjoyed over time, it escaped proper photographic capture. 


The brewery doesn’t appear to do much experimentation.  They’re purists – malt, hops, yeast, water only – and offer the following five beers as their mainstays:


I’ve also had their Oktoberfest beer, which also quite good.  Their summer options… not so impressive.  Regardless of claims of legitimacy, I don’t get excited about mixing beers with Coke or Sprite.


I caught this brewery on a fine Autumn day, which soon neared evening.  Tours are offered on weekends, and… oh, well, they’re all the same anyway.  Stainless steel tanks.


Not my favorite styles of beer, but these are solid accompaniment for fun and good times, both of which can be had on site.

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Looks like a Big Chicken Barn

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And it is!  Or was.  Heading south on Hwy 1 from Bar Harbor with my wife and daughter, we were driving along to see what there was to be seen.  And then, we passed an old building that resulted in the dreaded “You’re outvoted” chorus, so… I turned around.


Welcome to the Big Chicken Barn. I’ve been to chicken barns.  They’re filthy.  In the south, they’re one story buildings that eventually fall to ruin.  This, though was essentially a hatchery, where chickens are raised until about 3 months old.  It was built in the 1950’s and continued in operation to the latter 1960’s.  In the mid 1980’s, someone cleaned it up, and now you can shop for antiques and books where 50,000 chicks once tread.   Despite the old look and questionable practice of having open windows for a building with damageable stock, I was pleased that the old timbers no longer held the smell of ammonia or other reminders of its past use.   In any case, let’s peek at what’s inside.  Why?  Because I took pictures, and you’re bored.  Maybe an old peddler’s tonic would help?


How about picking up a solid investment in the environment?


The first floor is loaded with antiques.  Some of these are furniture, some are remnants of old buildings, and much are the tools, knick-knacks, toys and the detritus of life that doesn’t merit the landfill simply because it’s old.  Speaking of old, the first floor’s charms seem to appeal to the generation that lived with the stuff, aged, oh 70 and up.  A walk down memory lane.  There’s actually a good variety, and while no doubt some come to search for something specific, it’s more likely a place just to say “I had that when I was a kid, and I have an empty (fill in the blank) where I can put it.”  I have to wonder about their prospects when our elderly generation passes on, as the prices don’t speak to any desire to move the inventory.



At 100 yards in length, you never forget you’re in an unusual venue – the barn construction remains apparent everywhere.


The second floor is for the books. 


Or, seemingly, magazines. 



“Life,” “Sports Illustrated,” and many others are kept in plastic sleeves and filed chronologically for any collection completionists out there.  This one from Feb 22, 1966 caught my eye.


The sixties were heady times indeed, dating by computer.  I don’t think college kids even date by computer today.  Magazine racks, magazine racks, and… books.  They have a collection of rare or autographed books, but in general, I thought there selection was substandard, particularly the sci-fi/fantasy.  As a side note, anyone looking for used CDs shouldn’t bother stopping. Dreck.


In any case, if you’re in Ellsworth, Maine… stop by… no.  If you’re ever in The Chicken Barn, then you’re in Ellsworth, Maine. 

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Portland Observatory

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Researching the drive from Bar Harbor to Maine, there were points we considered visiting – a one hour train ride, a visit to the Maine State Prison store (which we did – woodworking), and “museum” or a collection of comic book/pop art stuff, a rock store, and… yeah, it sort of devolves.  We also happened to cross Penobscot Narrows Bridge which boats the highest observatory on  a public bridge in the world, which begs the question if there’s a private bridge with a higher view.  In any case, we pulled over and… sorry, the observation area is closed.  There’s an elevator to the tip of the nearest column in the photo below.  Oh well.


This was kind of a “play it by ear” endeavor, but we knew that our next likely stop would be the Portland Observatory.  To borrow from publicly available information, it’s been in place since 1807 and is the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the U.S.   Using a telescope and signal flags, it allowed two-way communication between ships and the shore, up to several hours before an arriving vessel reached the docks.  Shipping companies would pay to stock their flags in the tower, which would be raised when their vessels were sighted.


The tower survived a fire in Portland in part because the area was fairly barren.  That’s no longer true as the town has expanded literally next door.  It’s survived disuse when communication systems improved and other lapses in maintenance, including abandonment.  However, locals made an effort to restore it, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and a National Historic Landmark in 2006, whatever that distinction is…  In any case, they offer tours to provide a little history which is now suitably summed.  Below is a model, and it’s notable that the top part can removed by crane (a feature added when repairs were made) to lower it the ground for maintenance:


The tower is 86’ tall and was built with an octagonal design to reduce wind pressure.  At the main level is an access port to view the foundation.  Stone blocks and other materials are laid across the wooden beam foundation to help the tower resist the wind.


Inside, here’s some “old graffiti.”  Guess that’s not a new thing.




At the top, you can see the counterbalance mechanism from which the telescope was hung.  It was stolen at some point.


Properly equipped, you could look in any direction (while minding the open stairway on the floor).  The little step allowed access to the telescope.


And, here’s the main view if using the telescope:


Walking out on to the catwalk, the view is clearer and worth paying the admission fee.




Viewable from the tower was Portland Head Light, which was a close enough drive to make it worthwhile.  It’s a park area and the postcard location for the city, I think.


Oh, and lobster rolls for dinner on a converted Ferry:


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