A month into the extensive international tour to support his Down The Road Wherever album, Mark Knopfler and his stellar band pulled up at the O2 Arena on Tuesday night (28) to give his admirers a two-hour treat of old and new favourites.
After three weeks crossing Europe, the itinerary landed in the UK on 18 May, and has included dates in both Glasgow and Newcastle, Knopfler’s two home towns, as well as two at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The previously-announced night at the O2 may have been in a far bigger setting than the bandleader’s normal choosing, but the vast audiences that still flock to see him are a measure of the enduring respect for his work, and of how frequently he refreshes his legacy with inspired new creativity.
Knopfler’s concerts have little to do with overt showmanship and everything to do with exhilarating interaction with his bandmates. This tour, in particular, offers much to see and hear across a wide range of instrumentation. From the opening ‘Why Aye Man,’ newly revisited from 2002’s The Ragpicker’s Dream, the stage was a whirl of industry. Longtime collaborators Guy Fletcher, Richard Bennett, Glenn Worf, Jim Cox, Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker, Ian Thomas and the ever-animated Danny Cummings are newly augmented by Tom Walsh on trumpet and the saxophones of Graeme Blevins.
Typically, the frontman chose not to hit the audience over the head with the splendid current album, performing from it only sparingly. Among some of the set texts of Knopfler’s peerless catalogue, this tour has him reinhabiting a number of favourite tracks from his vast songbook.
Privateering, for instance, offered up the jaunty ‘Corned Beef City,’ while his first solo album Golden Heart gave us Done With Bonaparte. Kill To Get Crimson produced an elegant ‘Heart Full Of Holes,’ and the whole crew took a joyful trip south of the border for the gloriously percussive Shangri-La excerpt Postcards From Paraguay.
Early on — and those who had studied the 2019 tour set lists knew it was coming — there was even more ambitious time travel for ‘Once Upon A Time In The West,’ from Dire Straits’ Communiqué album, back in the first team squad for the first time in 36 years. Unusually, ‘Sultans Of Swing’ stayed at home, but Knopfler’s Straits years also saw a revival for ‘Your Latest Trick,’ a fine showcase for Blevins’ nimble sax, as well as ‘On Every Street’ and an ever-anthemic ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Of the new material, the droll ‘My Bacon Roll’ became an engaging ensemble piece, and Knopfler prefaced ‘Matchstick Man,’ the closing track on Down The Road Wherever, with its wholly autobiographical tale of his early troubadour travels at the age of 16.
For afters, there was a high-octane ‘Money For Nothing,’ heightened by the close-up view from the mini-camera on the end of Knopfler’s guitar, then a richly emotive ‘Brothers In Arms’ and the familiar farewell of ‘Going Home.’ Knopfler remains both the local hero and a worldwide one.
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