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Music

Knopfler's guitar gently weeps, moans, and wails

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / July 21, 2008

To go by the setlist that Mark Knopfler chose to perform Saturday at the Bank of America Pavilion, you'd never know that he had a relatively new album to flog. The former Dire Straits frontman's most recent release, "Kill to Get Crimson," came out seven months ago, but despite playing for nearly 2 1/2 hours, he delivered precisely two of its songs.

It was hardly a greatest-hits show, though, at least not the way that it's typically understood. It was really more of a sampler, spanning his solo career with a handful of Straits songs thrown in.

He began with "Cannibals," his six-piece backing band providing cajun seasoning before shifting into the vaguely Celtic cut-time stomp of "Why Aye Man." Despite the seven musicians onstage, nothing sounded cluttered, and songs such as "The Fish and the Bird" even came across as delicate, with each player adding a touch here and there. Ironically, the most stripped-down number was also the most chaotic, as Glenn Worf's upright bass and the clickety-clack of Danny Collins's drums were all Knopfler's guitar needed to give the bluesy "Song for Sonny Liston" a John Lee Hooker feel.

Like Hooker, Knopfler has always had a low, often unvarying rumble for a voice, but there were times on Saturday when he seemed particularly unexpressive and in need of enunciation lessons. His deep murmur, combined with the songs' tempos, turned "Brothers in Arms" and "Our Shangri-La" into an awfully subdued start to the encore. "Sultans of Swing" (itself pared down to the two guitar-bass-drums lineup of the Straits original), meanwhile, would have been utterly incomprehensible if everyone in the audience didn't already know the lyrics by heart.

But Knopfler has always communicated more effectively through his writing and his guitar playing, and songs like the dramatic "Telegraph Road" and the bouzouki/mandolin-fueled "Hill Farmer's Blues" reminded anyone who might have forgotten that he's long been one of rock's most fluid and lyrical guitarists. Even the simple four-note theme that signaled the start of the concluding solo of "Romeo and Juliet" was met with audience whoops almost as loud as the cheer that erupted at the sound of the song's finger-picked introduction. Knopfler ended with a triumphant and romantic instrumental from his "Local Hero" soundtrack, and without a single lyric escaping his lips, he managed to say plenty.

Evoking the crystal purity of gothic English folk, Jesca Hoop opened with songs that demanded an intimacy the Pavilion couldn't provide. Alone on the stage, even Hoop acknowledged how poorly suited she was to the venue as her acoustic finger-picking and breathy singing faded in the open air.

Mark Knopfler

With Jesca Hoop

At: Bank of America Pavilion, Saturday

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