Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mark Knopfler Playing the Orpheum

I took the train (my old friend!) into Boston last night to catch Mark Knopfler at the Orpheum with Adam and Norb. I've long wanted to catch this dynamic guitarist in action, getting into him back in the Dire Straits days but also a big fan of his 2nd and 3rd solo albums Sailing to Philadelphia and The Ragpicker's Dream.

The show was all I hoped it would be. MK led an eight-piece band through their paces for a two-hour show that covered his entire career. He's always worked with amazing musicians, and their command was on full display last night. They played groove rock (“Coyote”), ballads (the gorgeous “Prairie Wedding”) , blues (“Hill Farmer’s Blues” and “Marbletown,” both off of The Ragpickers Dream), and hits (“So Far Away,” “Romeo and Juliet”). And of course, examples of the MK specialty that I call the "slow-burn" genre, here expressed with "Speedway at Nazareth." This NASCAR-inspired toon starts off relatively simple and slow, driven by locomotive brush drumming, but slowly builds up to an incredible rocking crescendo. In short, the band often expressed its power by holding itself into a groove, but when called for could cut loose and rock out, anchored by MK’s clarion guitar.

I was familiar with a large majority of the songs that he played, which I like because I'm able to hear how they songs get tweaked in a live setting. For instance, a flute and violin gave an Irish touch to a few toons (esp. “What It Is”). I also got a kick out how many of the musicians changed instruments as the songs called for it, although I think that every musician picked up a guitar at one point.

As for MK himself, he’s so talented it’s hard to say much about his guitar playing that hasn't been said before by writers better then I. It was notable that he was limited to performing from a stool. Just after Norb and I pondered if his 61 years had caught up with him, he announced that he wasn't doing his normal "struts and leg lifts" due to having a pinched nerve. Indeed, he seemed to be in some pain during parts of the show, and he was unable to leave the stage for the typical multi-encore end-of-show set (instead, the roadies brought out drinks for everyone and so we clapped and watched them pound water for a few minutes).

All in all, it was an excellent evening. Well worth the price I’m paying in brain-dead exhaustion today.

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