I first heard Mark Knopfler the way just about everyone else did, on the Dire Straits song “Sultans of Swing” back in 1978. Upon first impression, and it wasn’t just mine, I wondered who was playing those cool Fender Stratocaster licks on a new Bob Dylan song.
Sadly, I missed my chance to see Dire Straits on their first American tour back when I was in college. (I know, stupid, stupid, stupid!) But I did follow the group throughout their career, as Knopfler’s songs and the band’s arrangements grew more sophisticated and amazing.
My favorite album of theirs is what I consider their artistic peak – Love Over Gold from 1982. The leadoff song is the 14-minute-plus epic “Telegraph Road” – a song that takes the listener on a journey from the birth of Detroit, Michigan through its development and eventual decline, the point of reference being the long linear thoroughfare in its title. I remember listening to that album over and over again on the original vinyl, with headphones on and lights off, marveling in the amazing tones coming off that record.
Three years later, Dire Straits hit it really huge with the worldwide multi-platinum Brothers in Arms, the record with all the mega-hits that saturated the airwaves. “Walk of Life,” “So Far Away,” and the MTV staple “Money for Nothing” helped define the 1980s and ushered in the CD and the beginning of digital music. It also was the beginning of the eventual end of the band.
Since then, Knopfler scored several movies and began his solo career. His exquisite and tasteful guitar work still enhances his songs, and his backing bands have been chock full of amazing and talented multi-instrumentalists. I know this for a fact, because I just got to see and hear Mark Knopfler live – finally, some 36 years after I missed Dire Straits for the first time.
There were a lot of songs from Knopfler’s solo career, including several from his new CD, Tracker. Dire Straits fans were kept happy with “Romeo and Juliet,” Sultans of Swing,” “Telegraph Road,” and one of the encore songs, “So Far Away.”
Mark’s guitar work was in fine form throughout the evening, as he switched from his signature Strat to a Gibson Les Paul to a Fender Telecaster to a vintage Danelectro to the metal National Resonator guitar featured on the cover of Brothers in Arms. Yes, there were several extended solos, just as one would expect at such a concert. But it wasn’t a “solo” show per se, as Knopfler’s band members each had multiple featured moments on instruments ranging from the typical guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards, to mandolins, bouzoukis, pipes, pennywhistles, fiddles, citterns, accordions, and a ukulele for good measure. The music flowed beautifully, the arrangements left nothing to be wanted, and the onstage camaraderie was blatantly evident. Mark and his cohorts were having a wonderful time, and their enthusiasm spread out into the warm and receptive audience.
The really good news is that the tour has four Florida dates in October, with the closest to the Keys on Halloween night at the Broward Center for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale. I will definitely be going back to see this show and this band.
It’s kind of amusing that at one of the mega-resorts close to where we saw Mark Knopfler, Britney Spears was performing a multiple night engagement. And the I Heart Radio festival is taking place this weekend as you read this. Sadly, none of the “music” performed at either of those events can hold a candle to the amazing show I just saw. It’s like comparing a kid’s crayon drawing to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There really is a difference between real music played by real musicians and the ever-present sampled producer product that has taken over modern radio.
Having experienced the real thing kind of eases the impact of getting old.