photo credit: Steve Rood
During his Sunday evening stay at the Greek, Mark Knopfler recalled the first time he came to Los Angeles: on a Greyhound bus. Over four decades later, the singer-songwriter/guitarist continues to display that same blue-collar, workmanlike ethos, even within and amongst an iridescent and elite 11-piece ensemble that delivered a nearly precise two-hour performance of his eloquent British rock. Under a warm, clear last night of summer, embellished with only minimalist lighting, Knopfler let the music and musicianship have center-stage.
He opened with a rolling “Why Aye Man” and a rocking “Corned Beef City” as the packed house settled into the wooded confines of the Griffith Park amphitheater. After an atmospheric run through “Sailing to Philadelphia,” sharing the vocal duet with percussionist Danny Cummings, Knopfler dusted off “Once Upon a Time in the West,” turning the 1979 reggae-flecked Dire Straits classic into a slightly slower expanded showcase for the band. It was the first of several Straits entries, and followed by another, “Romeo and Juliet,” with Knopfler’s eternally tasteful guitar once again shining.
Sitting on a stool for a middle-run of storytelling, Knopfler first chose “My Bacon Roll” to support his latest, Down the Road Wherever. A somewhat surprising selection, given that album’s strength of songs, the quiet folk lament was transformed into a dynamic group vehicle on an extended outro. Knopfler recollected a youthful, post-gig, 500-mile Christmas Day hitchhike inspiring “Matchstick Man,” and patiently worked his way through the introductions of his ten bandmates, proudly reporting that the collective plays a sum total of 49 instruments.
Straits’ “Your Latest Trick” held onto its last-call cocktail jazz, while “Postcards from Paraguay,” as a playful Celtic/South American hybrid, pulled the relatively passive audience to their feet. Knopfler joked that maybe security was keeping the mostly 50-and-over crowd sedate.
For much of the evening Knopfler had somewhat deferred respectfully to his multitude of skilled musicians. On the last four, though, he returned to his rightful place as six-string savant, driving “On Every Street,” dropping hints of Cream’s “Crossroads” into the set-closing “Speedway at Nazareth,” and emerging from a flurry of drums to fire off the indelible, fuzz-soaked riff on encore “Money for Nothing.” On a closing “Going Home: Theme of the Local Hero,” he shared the rollicking highland melody in harmony with his mates, rousing a standing ovation that prompted one of the few smiles from the modest guitar master.
It was during “On Every Street,” the title track from Straits’ 1991, and final, studio album, that Knopfler sang of a “three-chord symphony.” While his groups have grown incrementally since he turned solo in 1996, this ensemble has fully realized that vision. With an assembly of aces and their four-dozen strong array- from whistles, fiddles, and pipes to saxophones, bouzoukis, and bodhrans- Knopfler finally has his symphony.