tue 16/04/2024

Mark Knopfler, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Mark Knopfler, O2 Arena

Mark Knopfler, O2 Arena

Prolific musical craftsman gives a tantalising reminder of his former self

Knopfler: a voice thick with weary emotion

For many, Mark Knopfler will forever evoke a golden age of Eighties' soft rock. His headband might have been easy to mock but his blistering, finger-picking was undeniably thrilling. Latterly, though, Knopfler has travelled a less commercial path. Still, while his folk tendencies may not be everybody’s cup of tea, there's certainly more to Knopfler than just melancholy ballads.

For much of last night he treated the O2 to tantalising glimpses of his former, more rocking, self.

Knopfler came on looking lean and casual in a floral shirt and jeans. His hair was close cut (he still looks a lot like John McEnroe), and, after taking his spot, proceeded to knock out a couple of tracks that could have been forged in the Dire Straits era. “Broken Bones” with its funky blues told the story of a boxer, while “Corned Beef City” was a fuzzy shuffle set in, of all places, Dagenham

Even more affecting was “Privateering”, a robust folk number reminiscent of “The Man’s too Strong”. With the volume kept low, and a clear sound, Knopfler (later joined by his seven-piece band) managed to make the aircraft-hanger sized space of the O2 feel pretty intimate.

The best songs of the night were only a little more than a decade old

It helped that his voice was thick with weary yet gentle emotion. It really hasn't changed much over the years other than to get a little more growly at the low end. But a tendency to mumble didn’t help some songs. “Skydiver”, with its Kinks-imitating melody, really could have done with better enunciation.

The real anticlimaxes of the night, though, such as they were, came, invariably, from a Celtic-music element that kept rising up. The multi-instrumentalists of the band – everybody seemed to play about five instruments – would periodically disappear behind the drums and re-emerge with pipes, or a fiddle or a whistle. Such arrangements may be effective on soundtracks and folk albums but here they just jarred. And “Postcards from Paraguay”, which on record has Latin charm, sounded a little too much like elevator music.

But any poor song choices were largely offset by the presence of three big Dire Straits numbers. The sight of Knopfler picking his steel guitar at the beginning of “Romeo and Juliet” was enough to bring a nostalgic tear to many a middle-aged eye. Guitar solos on “Sultans of Swing” were made all the more stunning courtesy of a nifty "neck-cam" projected onto the screens. Strangely, though, his band played a little soft on both tracks, denying them real rhythmic drive. But, by the time they got to "Telegraph Road", the pace had picked up and it really was like 1983's Alchemy tour again.

The crowd’s enthusiasm for the old stuff may have overshadowed some of the later material, but the best songs of the night were only a little more than a decade old. The Dylan-esque “Marbletown” from 2002’s The Ragpicker’s Dream and the spectral "Hill Farmer's Blues" (from the same album) ably demonstrated what gems exist in Knopfler’s solo repertoire. Yet it's a repertoire that could do with going a little easier on the soft, sentimental numbers. The penultimate song of the encore was the slightly saccharine “Wherever I Go”, during which some started to leave. They soon stopped when they heard the theme from Local Hero, with which the evening ended.

The juxtaposition of those two songs prompted the man in front of me to pause for a moment and then pronouce to his wife that he wished Knopfler would stop teasing us, and record a full rock album again. Amen to that.

Overleaf: watch a short film on Knopfler's latest album, Tracker

The sight of Knopfler picking his steel guitar at the beginning of 'Romeo and Juliet' was enough to bring a nostalgic tear to many a middle-aged eye


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Spot on review, 4th time I've seen him, I was hoping for more songs from the new album, can't believe he didn't play beryl, for me the concert was too much like the last privateering tour which was brilliant but I didn't want a repeat of that, what didn't help either for me is the o2 is rubbish compared to the Albert Hall

Mark Knopfler at O2 - big dissappointment if you are Dire Straits fan, didn't play 'Money for nothing' or wear his headband! Concert threatened to liven up, but then would quickly sink back into slow, folky, introspective songs. Musicians were brilliant, which is fine if you were recording songs, but as regards stage presence and charisma, the show was lacking.

You're going to a Mark Knopfler show not a Dire Straits show. Just as you shouldn't expect much Genesis music from a Mike and the Mechanics show. The only song I would be really disappointed in not hearing is Sultans of Swing. Otherwise, Mark has an amazing catalog of songs from his solo career. I'd love to see Telegraph Road dropped in favor of something from Golden Heart, Get Lucky, Shangri-La etc.

With the band containing some of the best folk musicians in the world I expect a Celtic folky flavour. Dire Straits is history.

Having gone to this gig to see Mark Knopfler with no expectations of hearing Dire Straits I found the whole thing totally engaging. The Celtic element was inspired and the music was breathtaking in parts, the musicians are super talented! I suppose if you were expecting to see Dire Straits you would be disappointed but it was clearly advertised as Mark Knopfler. A fantastic evening of music with a good mix of everything MK is about.

Great evening. I think the O2 was a mistake to be learned from though. I've heard great sound in both the O2, and the RAH. Kings of Leon at the O2 was incredible, whereas Knopfler wasn't. Where I was sat (fan seating) on the side. In my right ear I could hear the main PA, in my left ear I could hear the delay about half a second later, making for a rather muddy sound. I don't regret going at all, it still was great, but next time I'll stick with the RAH.

I agree with echo problem. Never had it before at O2. Probably poor speaker set up as they were all at the front whereas should have some additional speakers further back to drown out the echo. Found myself turning to the right to offset the echo.

Liked the Celtic stuff but I agree about the mumbling. In fact there were times when he was utterly unintelligible. Still a fine guitar picker though and his backing musicians were excellent.

Er...don't think he really needs a headband!

Oh dear oh dear, why did he pick the O2 for this very intimate gig. And, as has been commented earlier, it sounded AWFUL, with most of the sound seeming to wash around the back of the arena resulting in this weird echo effect. Now this is not the O2's fault as I have seen other bands there that sounded great, can only be his mixer and engineers that staged it all so wrong. As for the set, don't get me started - how could he not do 'Money for Nothing' ffs. Lengthy jams were overindulgent and he should have done more Straits as clearly that's what the crowd wanted, but I would forgive him that had it not sounded so BAD.

Friend who is a DS fan suggested we go. I discovered I don't like his solo stuff at all... The biggest cheers of the night were for the DS stuff with polite applause for the rest. MK knows this, so he is simply being awkward not playing more of what he knows folk want. His prerogative, but I'll never be back.

Couldn't agree more. Three quarters of the evening were very boring and almost non existent! Like you say the crowd went wild for the old tunes and fell asleep the rest of the time! I've been waiting 20 years to see him live and what a massive let down it was! I certainly won't be buying his new tracker album based on the mumbled drivel I heard or more to the point couldn't hear!

First time I've seen MK 'live' for >20 years and my first visit to the O2. Not knowing quite what to expect I wondered how his intimate tracks and vocals would work in such a vast arena. Others have commented on his mumbling in the earlier songs, also the weird echo effect. But those apart, it was a great gig. For those wanting more DS stuff or more 'typical Knopfler' I say just enjoy the man and his music (and the brilliant band). Any half-decent musician develops his music through his/her career: I recall thinking that Communiqué was too similar in style to the first album for DS to survive for very long. Glad that Knopfler steered the band on and developed their music from that early brilliance. So I say, enjoy the ride appreciate the privilege of being able to enjoy musicianship from a master.

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