Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mark Knopfler at the Tower Theater, May 7, 2010

Amparo, Dave, Lori and I had a chance to see one of my all-time favorites, Mark Knopfler, at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia last night. Knopfler, front man and creative force behind Dire Straits in the late 1970's and 1980's, has been operating as a solo act for about twenty years now, although since he fundamentally was Dire Straits (songwriter, singer, lead guitarist), there isn't all that much difference between the two incarnations.

We went in separate cars because of schedules, and my wife and I arrived first. One of the nice things about the Tower is that is has bars in the lobbies. So, with refreshments right outside the door to our balcony seats (left center H 102 and 104), we grabbed glasses of wine on the way in. This gave us a good laugh when we got to our seats, realizing that we were sitting at a rock concert having a glass of wine and that we appeared to be two of the younger people in the audience. Shortly after arriving, the opening act, Pieta Brown, took the stage for a 35 minute set. She sang and played acoustic guitar, and was backed by an electric guitarist. She was pretty good, but as is often the case with opening acts I have never heard of, every song kinda sounded the same, and I ended up just wanting to get to the main event. Dave and Lori arrived partway through the opening act. In fairness to Ms. Brown, and Bo Ramsey, the guitarist, I would have to say they were better than many opening acts I have seen, and I wouldn't mind taking the trouble to dig into her music a little bit.

After a very brief break, Mark and the band took the stage at 8:45 and opened with a very good track off the new album (Get Lucky) called Border Reiver. Then came What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia, which always gets a great reaction here in Philly. What It Is is a fantastic song, and would rank as one of my favorites from the post-DS era; tonight's playing certainly did it justice. The 9 member band was very tight, as is always the case with a notorious perfectionist like Knopfler, and the approach to the music was definitely low-key, with Mark perched on a high backed stool center stage and barely moving. Somewhere at about this point, between songs, Mark apologized to the audience for staying on his stool, but explained that he had pinched something in his back and basically couldn't move at all. It didn't seem to affect his playing one bit as the show went on, but the vibe for the whole show ended up very relaxed.

The show continued with Coyote, Prairie Wedding, and Hill Farmer's Blues before moving into Dire Straits classics Romeo and Juliet and Sultans of Swing. I love Romeo and Juliet, both for the song and what it means to me, and because it causes Mark to bring out the steel acoustic, which I just love the sound of. In retrospect, I think Sultans was one of the songs that may have been affected by Mark's ailment, in the sense that it was clearly a shortened version of what he normally does, and I think the shortening came in the form of editing down the extended crescendo'ing instrumental jam that usually ends the song. The notable solo bits that everyone expects from the Alchemy days were there, but the fill was truncated, so the effect for me was like the whole song was telescoped down, if that makes sense.

The rest of the middle section was Donegan's Gone, Get Lucky, Marbletown and Speedway to Nazareth. In what I believe to be the second of three noticeable edits, Get Lucky was dropped from the set list despite being on every list posted from earlier shows on this tour. I think this shaved another 5 minutes off the show for them. Not that I am complaining, as the alternative would be "cancel the show, Mark's hurt".

The last song in the main body of the set was another Dire Straits classic, Telegraph Road. This is one of my favorites, and the version was excellent as always. The album version of this song is 14:23 in length, and when we saw Mark at the Mann Music Center in the summer of 2008, the live version was every bit as long (Alchemy had it at 13:43), with many extended periods of hauntingly beautiful instrumentals, but that isn't really what we got this time around. I think this live version was no more than 8 minutes or so, which there's nothing wrong with, but it was different. All above comments could be wrong of course, and what I am reading into them as edits to shorten the show so Mark could get through it might be nothing more than new streamlined versions of old songs he has played thousands of times. But maybe I'm right and this was the "tough it out" version...

At this point, the band normally would have left the stage for a few minutes before coming back for their three-song encore, but due to the fact that Mark apparently really couldn't move, the musicians milled around on the stage for a while, drinking water and waving at the crowd with the stage lights up. After a bit, they picked up instruments and played out the show with Brothers in Arms, So Far Away, and Piper to the End. Two DS classics and a song from the new album. Brothers in Arms has become one of my favorite DS songs, in that it is typical of everything that I love about Knopfler's better songs (which is most of them) - intelligent lyrics, tightly constructed instrumentals and hauntingly beautiful guitar work. I find there to be so much emotion wrapped up in the guitar lines in this song that it gives me the chills, perhaps more so the older I get and the more I listen. Nothing else sounds like Mark Knopfler. He has that same quality that Clapton does - you hear him and say "that's Clapton".

As always, I am amazed looking back on the show at the quality of the musicianship. Knopfler always surrounds himself with a band full of masterful players who can pick up a multitude of different instruments and create a huge range of different sounds, but his own virtuosity was hard to believe considering that after the final song had ended and the band was done waving to the crowd, Knopfler could barely stand and walk off the stage, and had to be heavily supported by a band mate. Amazing. I am always struck also by the wide range of influences that have colored Knopfler's solo work over the years - English traditional in all its forms (Celtic, Scottish, Gaelic), American country, hillbilly, rockabilly. Great stuff. He is a sponge, and I have been the beneficiary of all of it.

The Tower Theater is a nice place to see a show, with good sight lines and pretty good acoustics, but it is a bit old and rundown, and has a musty smell to it. One other thing that I did different for this show than I generally do is that I found the set list for this tour on the internet ahead of time and therefore knew exactly which songs were going to be done in which order. I don't think the lack of surprise affected my enjoyment of the show, and it gave me the opportunity to listen to a few of the songs I didn't know as well ahead of time. I think I will be doing that again; homework that's actually fun!

This is the third time I have seen Mark Knopfler live. The first time was with Dire Straits at the Mann Music Center (probably in 1985?). The second was in the summer of 2008 at the Mann with basically the same band as he had tonight. This was the third, and all three have been among the highlights of my concert going career.

I do wish he would do Tunnel of Love for me though...I would pay the ticket price for that one song...just once more in this life...


  1. Great review. I was there last night. I was also at the DS concert at the Mann in 1985 and saw Mark in Boston in 2008.

  2. I sat at A-116.. great show.. Thanks for the review and set list.. I saw Knopfler 2 years ago at DC's Wolftrap, with Clapton.. The best was Dire Straits "Brothers In Arms" tour (the best ever).. I really hoped to hear "Get Lucky", "Cleaning My Gun" or "Boom Like That" however those songs don't need all the great musicians he had last night.. I really enjoyed seeing Bo Ramsey & Pieta Brown as well.. They were one of the reasons I drove up from DC to see the show.. (I missed getting tickets to the Warner down here) I really enjoyed the Tower Theater .. I "Got Lucky" getting a parking spot..

  3. I was at the show, 4th row, and I think your account of this show is spot on in every respect, from MK's perfectionism to your conclusions about effect of his ailment on the shortening of Sultans and Telegraph as well as the omission of "Get Lucky". I also wish they'd played "Cleaning my Gun" as they did in other venues on this tour, I really thought that would have been great live. But still such a great night of music.

  4. Great review. I can't think of anything to add. Great music, and I'm glad we could be there.

  5. Was at the show. Not blown away, but a good show. Get Lucky is a great CD. I was hoping to hear more from it, but getting to hear Telegraph Road and Brothers in Arms made the show.