Sometimes I wonder to myself if people who actually got to see artists like THE BEATLES, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, or LED ZEPPELIN perform live really understood and appreciated that they were not just witnessing a concert but an artist that would become a legend? Did they really sit there and comprehend that they were witnessing an innovator that was laying the ground work for so many more talented artists to come and inspiring those who otherwise may never have gotten involved in music at all? Can they look back now and say, “Oh My God! I was there! I witnessed history!” I know I can… maybe not in the magnitude of the artists I’ve mentioned above, but still… I have witnessed greatness and I know when I sit back and think of all the “living legends” I have seen in my lifetime… Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, KISS, Paul McCartney… etc. etc. etc., I know one name that will always stick out in my mind and that name is Mark Knopfler.
Fortunately for me, I have had the privilege of witnessing many world-class or even “legendary” guitarists perform. Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Les Paul, Joe Satriani, Bo Diddley… just to name a few and ALL of them are more than worthy of all the accolades that they have received and even the “legendary” moniker itself. But to my ear, no one makes a guitar “sing” quite like Mark Knopfler.
Saturday May 8 was not the first time I got to witness this amazing performer. I have had the privilege of seeing Knopfler perform with his original band dIRE sTRAITs, I have seen him duel solos and trade riffs across the stage from Eric Clapton and I have seen him as a solo artist at least a dozen times over the years and I’ve never, ever been disappointed. It still amazes me hearing the gentle yet precise tones and notes emanating from his 1936/37 National Style O (or whatever his “weapon of choice” happens to be at any given moment) as he strums in his own flamenco-like style while his fingers dance across the fret board. In a word… breathtaking! No matter how many times I’ve seen him, he never fails to deliver and this night would be no different.
Knopfler and his band took the stage at Ceasar’s Circus Maximus in Atlantic City, NJ just about 9:00pm… opening with a song called “Border Reiver” from his latest studio release “Get Lucky.” One of the things I love about Knopfler is how much his songs translate even better “live” than they do in the studio and “Border Reiver” is a perfect example. On the CD itself, this track has a very Celtic feel to it with hints of traditional Irish-folk but “live,” while it still maintains its basic elements, the fullness of the band backing up Knopfler’s on-the-fly fills make it sound like something almost completely different.
Mark and the band continued on with one of my favorite Knopfler-solo tracks… “What It Is” from his 2000 release “Sailing to Philadelphia” followed by two more from the same release; the crowd pleasing title track “Sailing to Philadelphia” and a little lesser played gem “Prairie Wedding.” After a very cool rendition of “Hill Farmer’s Blues” from his “Rag Picker’s Dream” release, it was time for Mark to strap on his beautiful, almost signature 1937 National Style O resonator guitar which I had mentioned earlier and that has adorned the cover of dIRE sTRAITs’ multi-platinum “Brother’s In Arms” for the tender dIRE sTRAITs classic which made the guitar famous, “Romeo & Juliet.”
While Mark didn’t move around all that much for this performance due to a little “tweek” as he put it, that didn’t stop him from strapping on that old 1962 fiesta-red Fender Stratocaster for yet another absolutely mind-blowing performance of the song that pretty much started it all… “Sultan’s of Swing.” This is just absolutely amazing to witness live because no version is ever exactly the same. While the band stays true to the melody, Knopfler simply goes off with tons of fills and solos… as if the REAL version didn’t have enough! Absolutely incredible and even as I, a fan, can’t get enough of hearing that song, Mark himself admitted as the song drew to a close that “…even after thirty years, it’s still fun to play.”
Giving a chance for the crowd to catch their breaths, the set continued on with another crowd pleaser “Donegan’s Gone,” the very “appropriate” (being that the show was in Atlantic City) “Get Lucky,” another Rag Picker’s Dream selection entitled “Marbletown,” and an eloquent version of “Speedway to Nazareth” before captivating the audience once again with the epic dIRE sTRAITs masterpiece “Telegraph Road.” This brought the regular set list to a magnificent close and while this would normally be where Mark and the band stepped off the stage for a few moments to allow the crowd to go crazy begging for more, Mark remained seated as the stage lights came up and the band members simply gathered around him and waved to the crowd in appreciation… I can only assume this was all because of Mark’s little “tweek.”
After a few brief moments, a member of Knopfler’s crew helped him on with his Gibson Les Paul and the show continued on with another awe-inspiring arrangement of “Brothers In Arms” followed by the final appearance of that good ole ’62 Stratocaster for “So Far Away.” Then Mark took his final bows of the evening playing “Piper To The End” off of “Get Lucky” with one of his newest toys, an Olympic White Don Grosh Electrajet, strapped across his chest.
This was one of Mark’s final performances here in the States and I am just so thrilled… NO, honored to have been able to catch him again this year. But for all European fans… and I know there are millions of you out there, the “Get Lucky” tour will be rolling on throughout Europe all summer long including six nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall where Mark has traditionally had some his most memorable performances and a venue I would absolutely just about sell my soul to witness him perform in. So if you are a true musician and can appreciate the finer art of a true guitar virtuoso, do your heart some good and treat yourself to a genuine living legend and then maybe someday you can sit back and cherish the memory of such an extraordinary experience as I know I will.