Mark Knopfler in New York   Photo by Associated Press
Fifteen years into his solo career, Mark Knopfler should really be considered a roots guy, not a rocker. If you can accept that, you would have liked his soldout concert Sunday at the State Theatre.
Knopfler, 60, was in good spirits, talking about his love of the Twin Cities and how Garrison Keillor encouraged him to move here. Backed by his always terrific band (this time featuring bluegrass stud Tim O’Brien on mandolin, fiddle and guitar), the British guitar hero showed his love of roots – namely country, folk, bluegrass and Irish folk. If one song kind of typified the evening, it was the finale, “Piper To the End,” from Knopfler’s current CD “Get Lucky.” The pretty benediction sounded more like the Chieftains than Dire Straits.
To be sure, there were a few old Dire Straits songs in the two-hour performance. But “Sultans of Swing” became more of a groove than a swing tune, though Knopfler did manage a cool chicken-pickin’-flavored solo, which was captured on a live camera attached to the head stock of his cherry-red guitar.
His guitar work on a lazy, aimless “So Far Away” seemed like he was playing Tex-Mex licks in Hawaii. “Speedway at Nazareth” was more a swirling travelogue than the rocking rave-up heard at Knopfler’s 2008 Orpheum concert. “Telegraph Road” never gained momentum as it had at previous Knopfler Minneapolis solo shows; even his guitar solo at the end seemed to be more of a jam than a statement that really took off.
By contrast, “Romeo and Juliet” worked. With his backup septet was trimmed by two members, this piece was about Knopfler’s voice telling a love story, complemented by his elegant and expressive electric guitar.  Simiarly, his guitar work on “Brothers in Arms” had a wonderful blues-folk-rock eloquence.
Other highlights included “Marbletown” as sort of a bluegrass stomp, the swampy shuffle “Cleaning My Gun” with Dylanesque mumbled vocals, and “Donegan’s Gone” as a fittingly shuffle/skiffle that was part country, part Irish and totally fun.
Set list:
Border Reiver/ What It Is/ Sailing to Philadelphia/ Cleaning My Gun/ Prairie Wedding/ Hill Farmer’s Blues/ Romeo and Juliet/ Sultans of Swing/ Donegan’s Gone/ Get Lucky/ Marbletown/ Speedway at Nazareth/ Telegraph Road ENCORE 1 Brothers in Arms/ So Far Away  ENCORE 2 Piper to the End