Even back in his Dire Straits days, Mark Knopfler was never really an especially dynamic live performer. He was – and still is – an amazing guitarist, an ace songwriter and a singer with a limited range, who nonetheless managed to suck you right into the song.
So the fact that he was sitting centerstage on a stool throughout his show at the Palace Theatre on Sunday (apparently due do a recent back injury) didn’t dampen his performance one iota.
In fact, it seemed to draw the sold-out crowd in even closer, making it a more intimate show than you might have expected.
Of course, Knopfler has never been all about the big arena fireworks – which made the big rock-show in-the-face-of-the-audience arena-rock lighting all the more annoying during “Speedway at Nazareth.” Knopfler doesn’t need to take it over the top. And at this point in career – seven Dire Straits album, seven solo albums, the Nottingham Hillbillies and a healthy handful of movie soundtracks – his audience doesn’t need them, either.
But that lighting was really about the only drawback with Sunday’s show. Over the years, Knopfler has mellowed without getting maudlin – are you listening, Mr. Clapton? Mr. Sting?
He bookended his two-hour performance with the Irish folk-flavored opening “Border Reiver” and final encore of “Piper to the End” (both from his latest album, “Get Lucky”) and served up a tasty variety of tunes from his catalog as solo artist, as well as Dire Straits frontman – in between.
It was the last date on his U.S. tour, and Knopfler was quick to give props to important members of the tour on their last night – the opening act Pieta Brown with Bo Ramsey, as well as bluegrass superstar Tim O’Brien, who was certainly the MVP of Knopfler’s band. That’s not only most valuable player, but also most versatile player, displaying his considerable talents on fiddle, mandolin and banjo, as well as both acoustic and electric guitars.
Knopfler’s guitar playing was exquisite, as usual. His tone and style are instantly recognizable – he if he was sitting down. His song selection hit the mark, although he was a bit too skimpy with tunes from his latest “Get Lucky” album.
And while he tends to settle into the pocket of mid-tempo ballads, he managed to mix it up enough, picking up steam with “Sailing to Philadelphia” – thanks in large part to the rumbling stand-up bass of Glenn Worf.
The rest of the band wasn’t too shabby, either – no surprise considering that keyboardist-accordionist Matt Rollings and the multi-instrumentalist Richard Bennett played key roles, alongside keyboardist Guy Fletcher, drummer Danny Cummings and flutist Michael McGoldrick.
Of course, Knopfler dropped in a healthy handful of Dire Straits tunes along the way, paring down the band line-up from seven to five for “Romeo and Juliet” and taking it down to just three for the following “Sultans of Swing.”
Opening the show with a 35-minute set, Pieta Brown scored best with tunes from her new album, “One and All” – her first full-lengther on her dad’s Red House Records label. Cowboy hat-clad Bo Ramsey was on hand to lend backing vocals and subtle electric guitar work to weave in and out of Brown’s acoustic strumming.
NOTE: Tim O’Brien will be back in Nippertown to perform at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival at the Walsh Farm in Oak Hill on Saturday, July 17. He is also scheduled to play at The Egg in Albany as a duo with Bryan Sutton on Sunday, October 3.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
MARK KNOPFLER SET LIST
What It Is
Sailing to Philadelphia
Hill Farmer’s Blues
Romeo & Juliet
Sultans of Swing
Speedway at Nazareth
Brothers in Arms
So Far Away
Piper to the End