Mark Knopfler knows his demographic and these days his concerts reflect that. The crowd filing into his sold out performance at the Moody Theater in Austin on Friday night were on the far side of middle age, but these are the kind of people who can afford the $150-$400 ticket price. They are also the kind of people who remember when his band Dire Straits was on top of the world in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. Those people would kill to see Knopfler play a whole show of Dire Straits tunes, yet they also respect his status in the pantheons of British rock music enough to let him do what he wants, and that is precisely what he did in Austin.
On his current tour Knopfler is supporting his recently released solo album, Tracker, and he took the stage to his band already hopping on “Broken Bones”, layering his signature fingerpicking over a fluid, funky groove from guitarist Richard Bennett. “Corned Beef City” kept the rootsy vibe going as Knopfler’s seven-piece band skillfully added textures to compliment his own slide guitar playing. In much of Knopfler’s music there is a delicate feeling that everything has its place and for a single instrument to cut loose would mean derailment of the song.
His band – some of the finest musicians around – seemed careful not to veer into spontaneity. This was especially true for the slower material of the show when Knopfler led the band through some of Dire Straits’ easy listening songs, like the sexy sax-laden “Your Latest Trick” and “Romeo And Juliet”. Celtic-influenced songs from his solo catalogue like “Father And Son” and “Mighty Man” allowed Knopfler to showcase his compositional talents, but in the live setting they also felt restrained, like he could have used such a large, skilled band to give more power to the audience. It should come as no surprise that the show’s best moments came during the small handful of times when Knopfler took extended solos, often playing with his back to the crowd. Perhaps it shows his respect for his band and presenting them as more of a unit than just his hired guns, but if there was one lacking part of the show it was the overall lack of straight Knopfler guitar playing. Or maybe I’m just in the minority of fans who would love to watch him fingerpick guitar all night long.
In the end Mark Knopfler played the setlist he wanted to play, and not the dream setlist desired by many a Dire Straits fan. He even remarked about it early in the show when he jokingly told the audience they were free to yell out requests, but that wouldn’t make a slight bit of difference in what he played. Either way, getting the chance to see a legend play for two hours is a worthwhile experience, and despite his generally deadpan expression throughout the show, it was clear Knopfler still enjoys the act of creating music on stage. He did crack a smile at the standing ovation he got from the crowd with the Dire Straits classic “So Far Away” and the instrumental solo tune “Going Home”, exuding a final sense of delight before closing the night.
Photos by Arthur VanRooy.