Sultan of Swing (off topic)

There’s too much interesting stuff going on these days to write about, but I will indulge myself into writing about something unrelated. I just came back from Atlantic City where I saw Mark Knopfler perform. I assume readers of this journal know who he is which will spare me from engaging in platitudes like “one of greatest guitarist of our time”. Statements like these won’t even begin to describe the level of mastery that he still possesses, at 60 years old.  I first became acquainted with his music by way of Dire Straits back in the 1980s. The iconic image is still imprinted in my head of Mark wearing headband with the fluorescent guitar in the famous Money for Nothing video.

Unlike my beloved Jimmy Page, another guitar God, whose heavy and powerful chords overwhelm you like a bulldozer, delivering a muscular, unrestrained sound, Mark’s is a fluid, crafty woven guitar lace that is so characteristic of Dire Straits. I was unfamiliar with his latest solo releases, perhaps because I’m a bit of a conservative when it comes to music and I didn’t want to be disappointed. But the sound that I heard from the first notes yesterday was so unique, so unmistakably familiar that it became instantaneously clear who was on stage. His guitar is telling a story in almost Tolkienesque way with many intertwined subplots and ornamental diversions. He doesn’t just go a straight line from A to B, he dances his way from one note to another with his fingers, rivaling Fred Astaire footwork. Despite such mastery, Mark is completely devoid of showmanship and is totally consumed in the moment. He’s there to deliver quality music and not to inspire air-guitar playing kids with various acrobatic tricks. Here’s what I’m talking about (this is from another performance 5 years ago, but he hasn’t lost it). I like how nonchalant he is.


Continue under the fold.


And here’s the way they were in the 80s! (Note to self: get a headband and sleeveless shirt for the summer.)

The country music influence that was noticeable in his earlier days has gotten even heavier in his latest compositions. Let me be clear – I don’t like country music, probably because Americans have turned it into a flag waving jingoistic exercise. The kind of country music he employs is the genuine folksy bluegrass with the banjo and this prolonged weeping echo-like string sound. Ironically, it’s the Brit who understands the essence of it. In fact he successfully combines American folk music influences with Celtic rock. His excellent band included a guy with a banjo and a guy with a flute.

In the middle of the set we were treated to Romeo and Juliet, directly followed by Sultans of Swing, which made girls and guys, respectively, ecstatic. Frankly, I didn’t expect him to go into classics, which is usually the case with the old musicians promoting their new albums, so I looked at it as bonus. On the other hand, someone like Mark is a one man band, who doesn’t need his old band mates to recreate old tunes. And really, everything he needs to sing anything from the 80s is his voice that is still solid and still has this velvety, husky quality; and his guitar skills. In this regard he’s like Clapton – he doesn’t need his Cream members to sing “White Room”.

At the end of the show – more surprises: Less known but nonetheless a treat to connoisseurs, Telegraph Road (see above), followed by Brothers in Arms and So Far Away.
Overall, one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. Like I mentioned earlier it is hard for me to like new songs right away, because I inadvertently start to compare them to old familiar stuff. But he managed the impossible: I’m downloading his latest album from iTunes right now and can’t wait to have it as my regular listening repertoire.

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2 thoughts on “Sultan of Swing (off topic)

  1. lemonsong2009 says:

    Lester Bangs would be proud! Thank you for conveying, in the language of the aficionado, the joyful subtleties of Mr. Knopfler’s stage presence and artistry. Makes me wish I’d been there, and certainly compels me to give the new stuff a listen.

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