Guitar hero Mark Knopfler is rock's anti-star: no cool outfits, self-conscious posing, long-winded solos or jumpin'-jack flash.
At the sold-out Orpheum Theatre on Saturday night, Knopfler, 58, showed that he specializes in the worst of Bob Dylan (mumbling, indecipherable vocals) and the worst of Eric Clapton (tasty, economic guitar solos) but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It was a quite good concert (on par with his 2005 Orpheum performance) -- unless you were the kind of fan who hangs on every word he sings.
It was well nigh impossible to hear Knopfler's voice for the first few songs -- it just wasn't loud enough in the sound mix. Factor in that he talk-sings in a deep, almost monotone voice with a thick Scottish/British accent, and it was more like his voice was merely another instrument in the band and the words were superfluous.
That probably didn't matter much because a Knopfler concert is mostly about his artful guitar playing and the enriching musicality of his excellent seven-man ensemble. While most guitar heroes are rooted in the blues-rock tradition, these days Knopfler owes more to Celtic, folk and country. He is the sultan of subtlety, providing expressive shadings by varying the tone, texture and tempo.
When he dipped into the catalog of his MTV-champion rock band Dire Straits, Knopfler thrilled the crowd of mostly baby boomers. "So Far Away" was a riff-rock clap-along, "Romeo & Juliet" was a sweet, Dylanesque love song, "Sultans of Swing" was a gypsy-flavored delight and "Telegraph Road" became a rare extended finger-picking journey. And he rocked out on tunes from his 25-year solo career, notably the rave-up to end "Speedway at Nazareth" and the gritty country-blues "Song for Sonny Liston."
While Knopfler worshipers come to hear his guitar, arguably the highlight of Saturday's two-hour concert was the violin work of John McCusker during "Marbletown," which fell on the bluesy side of bluegrass. Near its end, the tune became something of a jazz combo-like jam among McCusker, Knopfler and bassist Glenn Worf. The piece progressed from an atmospheric jazz vibe to slow, solo fiddle sawing to pizzicato violin to gorgeous sophisticated full-band pop. While Knopfler's guitar was in the mix, this musical jig was all about McCusker. And that's such a typically anti-star move by Knopfler.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719