tue 18/09/2018

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

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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