Mark Knopfler at the LG Arena Birmingham

Posted: May 25, 2013 in Live review

knopflerThe opening bars of the classic Walk of Life were lodged firmly in my brain as I joined the thousands fighting their way through traffic deadlock to see guitar genius Mark Knopfler at the LG Arena in Birmingham.

Having not seen Dire Straits in their ‘80s pomp I was looking forward to hearing the band’s classic tunes mixed in with their legendary frontman’s impressive solo set.

In the middle of a world tour to promote his 2012 album Privateering, Knopfler and his superbly talented band of musicians opened with What It Is from the excellent 2000 album Sailing To Philadelphia before moving on to Corned Beef City and Privateering from the current collection.

The haunting Father and Son came next followed by the poignant Hill Farmer’s Blues which like a number of songs on 2002’s The Ragpicker’s Dream album has references to places in the North East which strike an emotional chord with Geordies like myself who know them all very well.

Mark Knopfler is a modern day troubadour, a musical storyteller who highlights the tough times faced by working people who sweated and toiled on railroads, in factories and down mines. I Dug Up A Diamond is a perfect example of Knopfler’s affiliation with the working man’s struggle.

Sax supremo Nigel Hitchcock took to the Arena stage for the hillbilly stomper I Used To Could and played the opening bars of a tune which drew a wave of gradual recognition as it swept through the crowd. A faint flicker of light bounced off a silver guitar and out of the darkness walked Knopfler and the magical masterpiece that is Romeo and Juliet…In my mind the maestro’s finest song. Genius in its interpretation; Touching in its simplicity. A true classic.

I cannot deny that I was praying for more Dire Straits as the former frontman has played Sultans of Swing at other venues. But my hopes and those of many others were dashed as it was back to plugging the new product with Gator Blood and Haul Away from the recent catalogue. Postcards from Paraguay from 2004’s album Shangri-La had the tell-tale strains of the Straits then it was time for the musical magnificence of Marbletown

Regular readers of my reviews know that I love to see and hear great musicians playing tight and Knopfler has surrounded himself with eight strolling players of the very best. They were all magnificent but the solo jousting between bass player Glenn Worf and fiddle player John McCusker must get a special mention as must the whistle and pipe playing of Michael McGoldrick. Marbletown was a modern day symphony and a standout track of a superb evening.

Speedway to Nazareth from Sailing To Philadelphia led the willing audience into the soaring excellence of 1982’s Telegraph Road from Dire Straits’ chart-topping album Love Over Gold… and off they went.

Seizing the moment, eager fans rushed to the front sensing the lid was about to spring off the box tightly holding all the ‘80s gems. This was the moment the classics would come thick and fast.

The opening lick of So Far Away sent us all back to the heady days of 1985 – red headbands and MTV – when the Brothers In Arms album was played in every corner of the world and Dire Straits blew everyone away at Live Aid.

The new stuff is very good but the old ones are the stuff of youth…The songs of big hair, big shoulder-pads and big yuppie filofaxes…(Stop cringeing…! You know you had them all..!)

Cries of Sultans of Swing swept through the audience. We were ready to ‘want our MTV’ once again… Sadly Knopfler didn’t want his as he missed his cue and deflated the hyped up crowd with the haunting Theme from Local Hero… The aptly titled Goin’ Home. Don’t get me wrong, this is a superb tune and a Geordie anthem but not what the crowd wanted. It was 9.50pm on a Friday night and fans were in a mood to party not go home and slug their Horlicks…

Okay, okay…I realise this tour is about promoting new product and to his credit Mark Knopfler and his magnificent band did a splendid job in selling the new songs. But can you imagine Paul McCartney not doing his Beatles classics or The Rolling Stones refusing to recognise their musical heritage… No, neither can !.

Artists must realise it isn’t just about trotting out the hits. It’s what the songs mean to the fans who shelled out their pocket money to buy them. Fans who read the sleeve notes and cherished that piece of shiny black vinyl or polished CD. It is the memories that are attached to the songs. The three minutes of pop that strike a chord and transport fans back to a happy time. The success of the recent Big Reunion series has once again emphasised the desire from people to relive and revisit their formative years and the bands they grew up with.

When Knopfler and his band left the Arena stage for the second time, there was a moment when the lights stayed down and an air of anticipation swept through the crowd…Are they coming back…Please just give us Sultans of Swing…

Excitement faded with the flick of a switch as the lights slowly came on and fans made their way home with thoughts of what might have been…

It was a wonderful gig played by superb musicians but like many I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated…The crowd love Mark Knopfler but they love what he represents even more… So next time bonnie lad… from one Geordie to an adopted Geordie… W’av paid wa monee…noo give iz sum a them Di’ya Strayts classaks man!

Star rating ****

  1. Jon says:

    I agree totally with this review. It was indeed a masterclass in how to discard 30 years of Dire Straits heritage. Yes, the band were all fantastic musicians and a number of his newer tracks are well crafted. However, I did not pay 50 quid to sit through 90 minutes of non-Dire Straits (save Romeo & Juliet) to then finally get Telegraph Road and So far away squeezed into a final 15 minute flurry.At times, the performance was a little too self-indulgent (a private jamming session between the band). Not good enough Mark and a snub to your loyal fans.LG advised a 730- to 930 show with no break. We got 8pm to 950pm- so what happened there then?

  2. Steve Rawsthorne says:

    I went along to this concert at the LG Arena clearly understanding it was ‘Mark Knopfler’s Privateering’ tour so I was not expecting too see Dire Straights! I thought the concert was outstanding, superb musicianship from all on-stage performers and I was not disappointed with the contens of the the playlist. I can only praise Mark Knopfler for the outstanding quality of his songs and song writing abilities, I love new material and I’m not at all disillusioned with the abcense of the historical material which some people seem to crave – I’ve heard it all so many times before! No particular highlights for me because I thought everything on the night was simply superb, so well done Mark and thank you for a most enjoyable evening. It should be remembered Dire Straights career spanned 15 years and they finally disbanded in 1995, 18 years ago! I suggest the historians should move on.

    • I agree with every word you say Steve. However, I do feel that there is a happy medium and all artists should mix both old and new to keep everyone happy. Thanks so much for your comments.

  3. Dan Madsen says:

    Ian, your review totally sums up how I feel about the concert. Fantastic musicians and yes, fine to promote your new music Mark, however, I would dare say the majority of people at the concert know Mark Knopfler and his amazing talent through Dire Straits, and not in spite of. I am sure that he left the vast majority of loyal fans at the concert very disappointed indeed. Just because Dire Strait’s music is from some years ago does not mean it shouldn’t be played live ever again. One doesn’t stop playing Beethoven or Mozart live just because their music was written years ago! For goodness sake, Mark Knopfler has made his name and his fortune out of the music of Dire Straits and the majority of us came to hear that music as well as his new stuff. Surely he still enjoys playing his old music as well? My wife and I felt totally cheated when we left the arena.
    I have been to many live gigs and I have to say this was the first I have been to where the star has disregarded their back catalogue.
    It is a mistake to deny your loyal fans wishes Mr. Knopfler.

    • As I said in the previous comment to Steve. There is a place in all artists’ sets for a mixture of old and new. All artist must think of the fans as it is they who have put them there and they who have to spend money on the concert tickets and the new albums. Thank you so much for your comment Dan.

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