Live at The Warner Theatre
2 May 2010
"Sometimes, it's good to be wrong..."
The last time I saw Mark Knopfler and company in concert was at The Mann Center in Philadelphia. That was in July of 2008. I wrote a "Gig Review" of that show - featured on this very site - and ended it with the following paragraph:
"The final thought was not a happy one: This is the last time I will see Mark Knopfler perform live. Want to know how I know that? In 1992, when I experienced the ON EVERY STREET Tour, Mark ended the show with WILD THEME. That night, and in the days leading up to the concert, I had been praying for the full band version of GOING HOME. I was disappointed to get the quieter song instead. But as time passed, I came to love WILD THEME. So
in 2001, 2005 and 2006, I prayed for WILD THEME to close the show. Mark did indeed play it during the 2005 Tour, just not at my Wolftrap show. So here it is in 2008
sixteen years after I prayed for GOING HOME
and now he plays it. I got WILD THEME when I wanted GOING HOME
and I got GOING HOME when I wanted WILD THEME. My life works that way..."
I truly felt in July of 2008 that I would never see Mark Knopfler perform live again. I don't know exactly what I thought would transpire to prevent this from happening. It's not like I thought I might shuffle off this mortal coil sometime soon after the show, and I certainly never suspected that The Man himself might suffer some accident or worse. Perhaps I simply expected Mark to stop touring. All I can tell you is that I was certain that the Philly show would be my last chance to enjoy a Mark Knopfler concert in person. And I was somewhat sad to think of this. I know I should not have been sad. After all, I have been blessed to see a Knopfler show six times in my life: Once in '92, once in 2001, again in '05, once in '06 (with Emmylou Harris) and TWICE in 2008, the latter capping a lifelong dream of mine to see more than one show from a particular tour. And I am telling you there is something to be said for the serendipity of the whole GOING HOME / WILD THEME situation. But you know what? I was wrong. I am man enough to admit it. And I am thankful I was. All I can say is... sometimes, it's good to be wrong.
On all of Mark's previous tours, (at least the ones I got to attend) the band had set out in Europe FIRST, eventually making their way to the United States. This created two interesting dilemmas for me. First, with tickets in hand for shows that were not set to be performed for several months after the start of the Tour, there was NO WAY that I could resist the urge to sneak a peek at the set list. And second, with "my shows" so far away, there was time to allow the excitement to build. But this Tour would be different. Mark and company were coming across the pond first this time out, and "my shows" would be upon me sooner rather than later. No longer would I be attending a show deep into the Tour schedule. In fact, "my shows" were so early on that the band might actually still be rusty! And as for the issue of waiting for the set list reveal... hell, even I could hold out for a month, right? Well, I am proud to report that as of this writing, I have only seen what Guy and Richard have posted in their diaries with regard to what songs will be played. And thankfully, neither gentleman has spoiled it for me yet. But with the start of the Tour only twelve or so days behind us, the excitement has hardly had time to set in. Okay, I'm lying. The excitement started in September of 2009...
Mark's new album was released on 15 September 2009. I didn't buy it. There is a valid reason for this. The day before, 14 September, I purchased four tickets for the Tour stop at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C on 2 May 2010. I was doubly excited to see that Mark and his band were coming to not only Washington (which is only a two hour drive from my home in southern Pennsylvania) but also that they were planning to play in a venue that I had never been to. Hundreds of artists have played The Warner Theatre over the past twenty or so years, including my favorite musician Phil Collins in 1982, but I have never seen a show there. My previous Knopfler concerts have all been enjoyed at either DAR Constitution Hall (in downtown D.C.) or at Wolftrap (in nearby Vienna, Virginia). So on 14 September, I awoke early, logged into Mark's Official site for the members only ticket pre-sale, and grabbed my first set of four tickets. With each set of two tickets came a free copy of Mark's latest work. So on the first day of the pre-sale, I snagged two copies of GET LUCKY. The very next day, 15 September, Mark's album was released. I still did not buy it. That day, I bought four more tickets for the show at The Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 7 May 2010, and consequently received promises of two more copies of GET LUCKY. So the GET LUCKY Tour would mark a return of the two show stop for my wife and I, a tradition we started on the KILL TO GET CRIMSON Tour, plus, it would mark a first for me: I did not purchase or listen to the new album for several weeks after it was released. The show in D.C. would also mark the return of my mother-in-law and my dad's wife to a Knopfler gig. When I emailed my dad's wife the news of the ticket purchase, she said:
"Well, May is a long way off..."
She was right in more ways than even she realized. There was still our ten year wedding anniversary in October (which my wife and I celebrated by spending five days at a five star, all inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica) and a weekend trip to New York City in December to see a Broadway show (David Mamet's RACE) where we met my wife's favorite actor, James Spader, and received his autograph. Twice. We also met, spoke to and shook hands with my favorite actor, Denzel Washington. It was a magical trip. Those last few months of 2009 were the best my wife and I have shared in our fifteen years together. But some hard times were yet to come...
On New Year's Day 2010, my grandmother (my dad's mother) died after a long struggle against her deteriorating lungs. She was eighty-six, and her death - though somewhat expected - still hit us hard given that it happened on the first day of a new year. Exactly five weeks later, on 8 February, my wife's dad (my father-in-law) died of a massive heart attack. He was only sixty-seven years of age. His health had been deteriorating for several years, and he was suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other ailments. That said, we certainly did not expect his passing so soon. As if that were not enough, my dad (who is only sixty-six years of age and was quite close with my father-in-law) went into the hospital in early April because he was suffering chest pains. Doctors discovered that one of his main arteries was suffering from a ninety percent blockage. He had a stent inserted - which is a rather common practice these days - but the idea that he too might not come out of the hospital weighed heavily on all of us. Now, if you can believe this... the very day that my dad returned home from the hospital... his wife dropped to the floor from an apparent heart attack! She too was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that she, in fact, had only suffered from something called angina. Apparently, angina is caused by stress and is not the same as a heart attack - which is caused by a blockage. And all of this in the span of four months! Now, with my dad resting and his wife uncertain if she would be able to make the show on 2 May... along with my wife and her mother suffering thier tremendous loss... things looked bleak. Would we all be able to recuperate in time for the concert? I knew in my heart that if everyone could hang in there, Mark and company would pull us through. May was indeed a long way off.
Not so much now...
I should have known something would go wrong. Things were too easy. And given the history of the past four months, things were bound to fall apart at the last minute. That is exactly what happened. The day before the show, 1 May 2010, my wife and I attended a wedding reception in Baltimore, Maryland. Her college roommate had been married back in March in Hawaii, and only a few people attended to ceremony. So a "reception" was planned at a local pub for friends and family. Everyone wore Hawaiian shirts and the entire pub was closed for the event. We ate a lot, drank a lot had a great time. During the reception, my mother-in-law took care of the kids. Our plan was to spend the night at her house in Pasadena, Maryland following the reception, then head to my dad's house on the morning of the show. My mother-in-law would then meet up with us around 5:00 PM and she, my wife and I, along with my dad's wife would all head to D.C. for dinner at the M&S Grill prior to the show.
That was the plan.
On the afternoon of the concert, the phone rang. It was my dad's wife. She was suffering from a stomach virus, one that my dad had suffered through the day before, and she was not going to be able to make the show. Worse, my dad would not be able to babysit the kids while his wife joined us for the concert. Of course, my dad's wife offered to babysit nonetheless, but my thought was that if she was too sick to go to the show, she was too sick to watch a six and four year old.
It was noon, the day of...
Thus began a mad scramble. Being rational people, rather than panic, we weighed our options. Option one: My wife, my mother-in-law and I go to show regardless. For this to work, we would have to try to find a babysitter amongst our many friend in Pennsylvania. Drive the kids home. Drop them at someone's house. Rush back to Pasadena. Head to D.C. in time. Option two: Take the kids with my wife and I to the show - thus using up the four tickets we already had - and try to find a single ticket for the show (which was less than eight hours away) for my mother-in-law. For this to work we would have to not only find a single ticket available, but hope that someone sitting near the four seats we would have would be willing to switch to our single ticket seat so that all five of us could be together. Option three: Take the kids to my dad's anyway and let them stay there. Risk everyone getting sick. Option four: My mother-in-law stays home with the kids and my wife and I go alone. I wanted option one or two. My mother-in-law wanted option four. None of us wanted option three. (We could not afford our kids getting sick as we have four tickets for the Philadelphia show on 7 May, and the kids were definitely going to that show!) My wife did not like any of the options. She did not want to burden any of our friends at the last minute, nor did she want our oldest out so late on a school night. She also did not want her mother to miss the show. Nor did I. There was much discussion. Many phone calls were made. Time passed quickly. In the end, we went with option four, at my mother-in-law's insistence. She opted to keep the kids and insisted that we go it alone.
"There will be other tours." she said.
I wasn't so sure...
3:00 PM: Time has run out. In order for us to make our 6:15 PM dinner reservation in D.C., we have to leave by 4:45PM. That means in the shower by 4:00 PM, shave, dress, kiss the kids goodbye and get moving. It's now 3:00 PM on the day of the show and we still are not sure how this is going to work. This much we do know: the kids are staying here, at Grandmom's house, and my wife and I are going it alone. I have been scanning ticket sites for hours looking for a single ticket. Some are available, but with no guarantees that we can swap that seat for one in our row. I have been calling everyone I know. But by 3:00 PM, time has run out. By now, there is no way my mother-in-law is coming. Once she has made up her mind... forget changing it.
I jump onto the Official Mark Knopfler Forum and post a Thread. Two Extra Tickets Available for TONIGHT in D.C. I am not worried about the money, I just don't want the tickets to go to waste. I tell my wife I am going to lie down until 3:30 PM. Ask her to keep an eye on the Forum. I head upstairs and call a co-worker who is a Knopfler fan. He also happens to be my next door neighbor back home.
"Maybe his wife can watch the kids if he comes with us..."
He picks it up on the third ring. I ask if he wants one of the two tickets for tonight's show. He answers that he has to work tonight, but he will try to find someone to switch with him. (Consequently, HE begins HIS mad scramble to get to the show...) My wife comes in the room moments later.
"You got a reply to your thread."
Back downstairs, on the computer to find a taker for one of the tickets. Arrangements are made with Jinesh. We will meet in front of the theatre by 7:30 PM. One down, one to go.
Ever since the phone rang at noon, stress has descended upon me. Trying to convince my mother-in-law to come with us. Searching for a ticket. Phone calls, emails, ticket searches. I collapse at around 3:25 PM. I need some rest. Lay down and close my eyes. The phone rings. It is my co-worker. Doesn't know if he can make it. But maybe he can. Too soon to tell. I tell him the ticket will be waiting for him if he can make it. I close my eyes for a few minutes and before I know it is it...
4:00 PM: In the shower, shaving. Reflecting. The reason I went to so much trouble to try for that extra ticket is simple. My mother-in-law lost her husband of forty plus years in February. My wife lost her father of thirty-six years. I desperately want them to have an enjoyable evening out with some good company, great food and stellar music. The last time we did this was in November at the Chris Botti concert in Hershey, Pennsylvania. My father-in-law was there and he truly enjoyed himself. Now he is gone, my mother-in-law is alone and the Knopfler concert has slipped away from her grasp. All of my plans have fallen apart. Fast. Shake it off, dress and head out the door. We drive the fifty or so miles to D.C. relatively fast, arriving at the venue at...
5:50 PM: As we head down 7th street en-route to the venue, I am approaching a green light when out of the corner of my right eye I see him, just in time to avoid him: A thirty-something middle eastern male driving a dark blue BMW. He is parked against the curb to our right, and just as we pull alongside him, he decides - sans turn signal - that he prefers the exact space that my vehicle is occupying at this exact moment. He jerks the wheel hard left and shoots out in front of us, missing our passenger side door and front bumper by mere millimeters. I slam on the brake, hit the horn and freeze. His reaction? He launches his left arm out of the open driver's side window of his far-too-expensive-to-make-a-move-like-that car and produces the middle finger for me to enjoy. He then speeds to the intersection and veers right onto another street, all the while flying the finger at me. I am livid. I turn to my wife.
"Did I miss something? He just comes out of nowhere, almost hits us, and gives ME the finger? What an asshole!"
My wife, ever the intelligent one, observes:
"Honey, he is driving a BMW. He doesn't give a damn what you think of him."
The asshole now behind us, we arrive on 13th street just off of E. Park directly across the street from The Warner Theatre. My first time seeing a Knopfler concert in a venue with a marquee. (Never saw any at DAR Constitution Hall, Wolftrap or The Mann Center.) Stroll across 13th street and snap a few pics of the marquee announcing MARK KNOPFLER SUNDAY MAY 2 7:30 PM. We decide to try for the tickets early. (I had read that some venues were giving out the pre-sale tickets and immediately demanding that patrons enter the venue in order to stop scalping.) Just inside the door we find an open window. Show my ID, sign the envelope, and as smooth as silk I am holding four tickets. The same tickets I ordered back in September. Back across the street and into the M&S Grill for dinner at...
6:15PM: This restaurant should be a good one. We have dined at McCormick and Schmick's seafood in Baltimore, and the meal was exceptional. But, as if things had not been hard enough today, dinner makes things worse. My wife is suffering from a headache and is tired. Long day just getting to this point. She probably just needs some food. I am starving and order the porterhouse. Waiter informs me they are out. Okay, give me the rib eye. Medium-well please. And an Arnold Palmer. (Half iced tea, half lemonade.) My wife orders broiled crab cakes. Spinach and artichoke dip for starters. The food arrives... my Arnold Palmer does not. Suddenly I realize I am looking at a New York strip, not a rib eye. Oh well, I am hungry. First bite: delicious. Soft and flavorful. The second bite: ice cold. Bloody and chewy. Shit. I drop my knife and fork and almost spit the bite out. My wife grabs a bite... and does spit hers out. She waives to the waiter. I don't have the stomach for this...
"Excuse me, but my husband ordered medium well..."
The slab of meat looks like it is bleeding all over the plate.
"I'll have the chef take care of this right away, sir."
Off he goes with my mortally wounded dinner. He returns far too quickly. The same slab of meat, now steaming. Still no tea. Another bite reveals more blood. Is it possible this thing got LESS cooked while they had it back there? Now my blood is up, so to speak. I waive the waiter over again. Spear the beef with my fork and hold it up for him to see.
"I want your opinion. Does this look medium-well to you?"
"No. No it does not." He sounds defeated.
"What would you call this?"
"That is medium-rare, sir."
"I agree. So if you and I agree this is medium-rare, then what you brought me before was RARE, correct? I ordered medium-well."
Did I mention this bloody slab of sinew is costing me thirty dollars? And I still don't have a glass of tea! I refuse his offer to send it back a second time. It's not even a rib eye for Christ's sake. Force a few more bites down and give up. Oh well, at least the spinach and artichoke dip was good. Dinner is a wash. My wife's headache has not subsided. I suggest that she return to the car and rest while I seek out a CVS for some Advil. She leaves and I wait to pay the bill. And I wait. And I wait. Thankfully (rightly) the waiter has removed my steak tartar from the bill. Pay and I am gone. I find my wife standing on 13th street chatting on her cell with her mother. No signal in the garage. Grab my phone and dial Jinesh. As the phone rings, I look across 13th street and spot Matt Rollings standing near the theatre entrance chatting up a couple. I spy Jinesh as he answers his cell and waive him across the street. We meet in the middle of 13th street and I point out Matt. I venture nearby, not wanting to disturb his conversation, but hoping to snap a pic of him. Not a pic WITH him, just one OF him. It is my intention to ask his permission to do this, but in hindsight I should have probably just done it. He finishes his conversation and darts away before I can ask. Oh well, at least I saw him. Jinesh antes up the face value of the ticket (actually a little less - I gave him a break because he was helping us out) and before I realize it, he is gone. My wife and I wander a block down to find the CVS has closed at 7:00PM. It is now...
7:10 PM: We decide to return to the car to wait for the opening act to clear the stage. If Pieta Brown is anything like Jessica Hoop was in 2008, we can miss it and not be any worse for wear. Inside the garage and down three floors. Into the Rav-4, AC up and my wife collapses. We rest for about an hour, and return to the venue at exactly...
8:05 PM: Once inside, we fight our way through the crowd and down into the basement for a bathroom break. No line at the ladies room. Huge line for the men. In, out, back upstairs. Grab a programme and notice Pieta Brown signing CD's. Into the theatre seating area and down the far stage right aisle to our thirteenth row seats. There is Jinesh, already seated. We chat him up and I stake out the aisle seat for myself, my wife next to me on my right and an empty seat between her and Jinesh. Just then I realize that the seat directly next to Jinesh on his right is also empty. God damn it, we could have brought my mother-in-law AND the kids and she could have sat with us regardless of what seat we bought for her. That seat will remain empty for the entire show. Just then, Paul Crockford emerges from stage right and makes his usual announcement regarding video and cell phone photography. This draws more applause than I expected, but I respect the rule. Others will not as the night progresses. Glance at my watch as the lights dim and notice it is exactly...
8:20 PM: My cell phone vibrates as I receive a text message from my co-worker. He cannot make it. Just then, Mark emerges from the same side of the stage as Crockford did, and I immediately notice (through the sea of upraised hands and deafening cheers) that he is not only limping considerably, but he is being led by the arm by bandmember Tim O'Brien. Knopfler's shoulders are slumped forward, and his is in noticeable pain as he slumps into his chair at the center front of the stage. But once the man smiles, I know all will be well. Now seated, Mark will not leave the stage for the next two hours. The applause increases, then dies down quickly as BORDER REIVER begins...
BORDER REIVER: From the moment that Mike McGoldrick puffs the first breaths into his flute, time loses all meaning. The crowd - and my wife and I in it - are swept into another world. An alternate reality, if you will. As I mentioned earlier, I did not purchase Mark's latest effort right away. When I finally did receive my four free copies (and after distributing one copy to my dad's wife and one to my mother-in-law) I settled in for a listen. BORDER REIVER is, of course, the first track on the album, and a fitting start to the evening. I glance across to the far side of the stage at Richard Bennett, and scan for any sign of pain in the right hand. As with Mark, Richard is smiling. No worries there. Guy is planted firmly behind his rig, playing an electric guitar and also smiling. There is Danny, slapping the high-hats with his brushes. Smiling. Glenn Worf: bass guitar in hand, smiling. Tim O'Brien... smiling. Matt Rollings. Yep, you guessed it. Smiling. The song works it's magic for a good five minutes, drawing the crowd into the groove and delivering smiles to everyone in the venue. As the song ends, I get my first taste of what I will come to refer to as The Drunk Guy. The Drunk Guy is seated somewhere behind and to the left of me. He starts the evening with several loud hollers of enjoyment, and proceeds up the ladder of drunkenness as the show progresses. As BORDER REIVER segues into the next song, The Drunk Guy lets out a wild, uncontrollable scream, to which someone nearby replies: "Shhhhhhhhhhhh!" He gets worse as we hear...
WHAT IT IS: The first of several surprises this evening. I was not expecting this track on this night, though I don't really know why I wasn't. The song made an appearance at every show since the 2001 Tour (except the '06 Tour with Emmylou Harris) so I should not have been surprised. But as the drums began to roll, a huge smile creeps across my face. It is, after all, my favorite track from STP. The tightness of the band is supremely evident at this point as the tune has not sounded this good since its premier in 2001, and the sound quality is above par. (I should take a moment to mention that the sound throughout the entire show was absolutely perfect. Never too loud - even during the louder songs - and never too soft.) I suddenly realize, however, that something that I thought would be present is missing. Behind Danny is only a curtain. I had been expecting a large screen upon which images of the band playing would be shown, but it is not there. Perhaps something with the size of the venue? Nonetheless, the song is awesome, and I have enough to look at without concentrating on a screen. And of course you can't have WHAT IT IS without...
SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA: Another classic from '01, the keys creep into my consciousness almost before WHAT IT IS has faded from my ears. I glance to my wife and whisper:
"They are gonna go nuts for this in Philly on Friday."
It is during the second verse of SAILING that I notice a change from previous live versions of this amazing song: Mark is singing this as a duet. Tim O'Brien has stepped up to fill in for James Taylor, and - if you can believe this - is doing a far better job than Taylor did on the recording. O'Brien's voice is deeper and huskier than Taylor, and far less nasally. O'Brien is a short fellow, and for a moment I fear his presence will be swallowed by the vast openness of the song, but my fears are soon laid to rest. He is singing beautifully and the interplay between he and Mark really heats up during this track... Mark singing and strumming, swiveling on his stool to watch O'Brien as he steps up for his turn at the mic. As the song winds down with Danny brushing away, Guy lines up his keys for...
COYOTE: Though I knew this song would be in the show because Guy mentioned it in his Tour Diary, as soon as the first notes hit the air I am stunned. Never having heard a particular song live makes a difference when one first experiences something like this. No keyboard misfires tonight as Guy and Mark lead the band down the dirt road of dusty lyrics that is COYOTE. The guttural rhythm reminds me a great deal of SONG FOR SONNY LISTON, which - sadly - does not make the set list, and listening to the intermingling sounds of Mark's bluesy guitar work, Danny's heavy beats, Glenn's rhythmic bass lines and Guy's intermittent bursts of pre-programmed sounds makes for a wondrous experience. All of which lead to the most surprising moment of the show. Just before the next song begins, Mark addresses the audience for the first time. He discusses how long it has been since the band last played D.C., and confesses that he cannot remember when it was. A man shouts from the balcony high above me:
And I shout: "2006!"
Followed by another fan: "DAR Constitution Hall!"
Mark then explains the reason for sitting instead of standing, and confesses that he rather enjoys performing from this position. He then speaks about another singer who performs the next song in a higher octave, and starts strumming the chords for...
PRAIRIE WEDDING: Have you ever taken a bite of food that is so tasty, so full of flavor and so rich that the first mouthful makes you moan aloud? That is exactly what hearing the opening chords of PRAIRIE WEDDING is like, and moan aloud is exactly what I do when the song begins. I am completely taken aback at the fact that this song is playing through the sound system, and completely enthralled at how perfect it sounds. The guitar work is deep and full - the best part of the song - and Mark's voice is relaxed, confident and comforting. Somehow, performing from a seated position suits Mark, and from this point on the show takes on a very comfortable feel. MY shoulders relax, my back eases into the seat a bit more, and I let the music take me. Every single note of PRAIRIE WEDDING is flat out perfection, and as the song draws to a close, I am on my feet. As are any others. It is the first of many standing ovations. Little time is wasted between PRAIRIE WEDDING and...
HILL FARMER'S BLUES: As if PRAIRIE WEDDING were not enough to get me going, along comes HILL FARMER'S. This song first made an appearance on the KILL TO GET CRIMSON Tour, and I have been eagerly awaiting a repeat performance for two years. The band does not disappoint. The first few lyrics suffer from some serious echo, but it soon dissipates. Mark, Richard, Mike and Tim take this song to new heights as the four of them bounce notes off each other in a volley of music and fun that becomes almost trance-like. When the final chords ring out from Mark's guitar, we are on our feet once again. The Drunk Guy is in full jackass mode now, cheering, screaming and shouting. As the song ends, he makes what will turn out to be the funniest crack of the evening. Through the applause and toward the beginning of the next track, The Drunk Guy shouts in his slurred speech:
"I really like your music!"
The outburst draws several laughs, and a few more "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh's" from patrons as the band warms up for...
ROMEO AND JULIET: The shining 1937 National Steel makes its first appearance of the night, and immediately my wife notices the reflection beaming onto the ceiling of the theatre. She points it out to me, but I am already there. The crowd falls silent for the entire song. Even The Drunk Guy manages to stifle himself for this one. It is so quiet in the theatre that when Mark slides his fingers over the strings, there is an audible squeak. What more needs to be said about R&J that has not already been said a thousand times before? Sheer perfection in a love song has never been achieved like this. And it may never be again. I am so in awe of Mark's plaintive playing and soulful vocals that I close my eyes, grab my wife's hand and drift away. But the pleasant mood is soon disturbed as The Drunk Guy lets loose with a series of yelps and hollers that come very close to the sound of a homeless person being raped by a pack of wild dogs. This signals the start of...
SULTANS OF SWING: Guy, Matt, Tim and Mike leave the stage and we are down to the famous foursome. Danny signals the start with the usual high-hat-followed-by-snare combo of: "Chick, chick, chick, BOOM!" and we are under way. What follows is nearly eight minutes of a stroll-down-memory-lane/guitar history lesson/Mark in all his glory rock fest. Danny is beaming as he plucks at the cymbals, alternating between the ride and the high-hats with frantic fury. Glenn is grooving with his electric bass. Richard even manages to tap his white leather shoe clad foot now and then, smirking at his luck at being able to perform this song night after night. Watching Mark play this tune seated is a sight to behold, and anyone who doubts that the man has still got the goods in his sixties is far from correct. As the song progresses, I am reminded of the lyric from CALLING ELVIS that goes: "You gotta tell him, he's still the man." This is still on my mind as the foursome wraps up the tune, cutting it slightly short at the very end, though I don't know why. The standing ovation is enormous. Tremendous. Stupendous. Mark is smiling wide. He is basking in it. The ovation continues for a good two minutes. I turn to my wife and say:
"He's still got it."
And it is as the crowd finally (reluctantly) dies down that the following exchange occurs... one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. As the crowd falls back into their seats, I am overcome with the feeling and I open my mouth wide. Here is what comes out:
"You are still the man, Mark. Still THE MAN!"
I do not expect a response. At all. But the man himself replies:
"Not sitting down I'm afraid."
Laughter followed by me again:
"Yes you ARE!" I want to say: "And you know it..." but I stop there.
"Well that's very sweet of you."
My wife turns to me and says:
"You just spoke to Mark Knopfler!"
No. He just spoke to me.
Next up is...
DONEGAN'S GONE: This song is the perfect example of how a song on an album is enhanced and surpassed when performed live. If you thought you knew blues, listen to this song in concert. Mark's guitar is stringy, loose, wet and spongy. And it is perfect. His voice is deep and throaty. Not at all soft on this one. Blues. That's all I gotta say. And suddenly, we are half way done the show. A brief respite for Mark to wipe his hands, and the band shifts into the background for...
GET LUCKY: I am immediately struck by how much fuller this song sounds than on the album. The lights shift onto Mark and he seems to straighten in his chair. He is strumming an acoustic guitar now... hell, the man has changed guitars after (and sometimes during) every single song so far! Not my favorite track at the time I first heard it, tonight Mark makes it so. Every note is spot-on, every moment ripe with potential. Mark makes the most of the time he has with his latest title track, and the idea that everyone in the theatre has somehow "gotten lucky" tonight draws cheers before, during and after the song. Mark takes a few moments after the song to introduce the formidable band members, using his usual folksy charm and wit to give each man their due. I comment to my wife that Mark seems to be a bit more chatty tonight, and the idea hits me that it must be the seated position combined with the intimate setting. On the previous Tour, Mark and company performed at large outdoor venues. Thus, he could not afford such personal talk if he wanted to get his point across. But here, on this night, Mark presents his songs as if he were seated around a campfire, leisurely strumming and singing the night away with some old friends. It puts everyone in attendance at ease. When Mark finally arrives at Guy Fletcher, who he saves for last, I wonder to myself what he will write in his Tour Diary about this very appreciative D.C. audience. I notice during the band intros that Guy has moved from behind his rig and grabbed an acoustic guitar. The reason for this becomes clear during...
MARBLETOWN: During the chorus, Guy is singing side by side with Tim, sharing a microphone... and they sound perfectly in sync. In fact, the sound is so clear that I can distinguish between Guy's tenor and Tim's baritone. I cannot say enough about how impeccable the sound quality is. At varying moments throughout the song I can pick out Danny's brush strokes, his change over to sticks, Matt's key work, Mike's strumming and Mark's deep inhales before he sings. I swear that if they dropped a pin on the stage floor during the song, we could have heard it plink and bounce. But that notion soon dissipates as we are thrown into...
SPEEDWAY AT NAZARETH: I am worried that this song will not be as powerful as in 2008. I mean, how can they possibly top that moment when the National Steel screen started it's thunderous decent? But I am a fool to doubt Mark. SPEEDWAY is as monumental as ever. The circular lights flashing across the back drop curtain create a dizzying effect while Danny's pounding drums create a heady rhythm. I am swept into the song like a surfer crashing and burning on the beach. The song is so powerful, it almost hurts. Almost. Mark stops just short of ear splitting notes and pushes the band harder than I have ever seen him do. By the end, we are all drenched in sweat. Us and them. I am on my feet just as Danny brings the song to a crashing close, and I stay there through the first notes of...
TELEGRAPH ROAD: Throughout the entire concert, there is an older couple seated directly in front of my wife and I. The husband is clearly into the music. The wife is clearly here for her husband. With each outburst from the crowd (and there are many, especially when you include The Drunk Guy and all of his mouth) the wife cringes, lurches or turns her head in the direction from which the noise came. She is timid and frail in her posture, and each yelp brings her stress level up. The music is too loud for her, the crowd too boisterous. By the time we reach TELEGRAPH ROAD, she is practically a nervous wreck. Well, anyone who knows of my Knopfler affliction knows that during the opening chords of TELEGRAPH ROAD, I have a tradition of letting go with a loud cheer just before Guy brings in his pounding piano chord. When that moment arrives on this night, I let loose with a shrieking, scorching holler of joy that echoes throughout the venue... and as I do this, the woman in front of me nearly leaps to her feet in fright! Her husband just laughs, and my wife whispers to me in a sarcastic tone:
"Good job scaring the old woman!"
I simply smile. Hey baby, it's a rock and roll show! And this poor creature is afraid of her own shadow. She does not want to be here. Now, I swear I didn't do it to scare her. I honestly don't care about her at this point. I am just enjoying the show. TELEGRAPH ROAD is another classic made better live, and on this night, the boys are in top form. That said, the end of the song brings with it a feeling of relief on the part of the band. Basking once more in the ovation, Mark and the boys enjoy a tray of beverages carried on stage by Paul Crockford. The tray contains several blue plastic cups, and as Crockford distributes them to the band members, I suddenly realize that the men are not leaving the stage because of Mark's leg. He remains seated while all of the rest of the members tip their cups our way and down their drinks. I am fascinated by this rare glimpse into what is commonly referred to as the "encore break", whereby the band usually runs off stage and waits a few minutes before returning. So this is what they do backstage while we stomp our feet and cheer for more. Hardly enough time for me to ponder this when its back to their respective instruments for...
BROTHERS IN ARMS: As I mentioned, the end of TELEGRAPH ROAD brings with it a sense of relief from the band, and this feeling carries into BROTHERS. That is not to imply that the song is poorly done... just slightly sleepy. A fantastic song on most occasions, this was the only time the song has seemed flat. I chalk it up to a long night, a long series of back to back shows, and a tremendous amount of effort on Mark's part up to this point. Who cares anyway? A slightly sleepy Knopfler classic is like bad sex. Is there such a thing? I take the time during the song to glance around at the crowd. I want to see if I am the only one who notices this change in mood. But rather than observing this, I see something far more interesting, at least to me. About four rows from the stage, in the corner to my left, is a man seated with his arms in the air. In his hands are two tiny microphones. I immediately realize that this fan is recording the show! So that confirms that someone out there has a bootleg copy of at least the audio. I begin to chuckle at the thought that this poor guy has spent the better part of two hours with his arms cocked at ninety degree angles while holding two tiny microphones in the air! The things we do for love... My attention shifts back to the stage as the tiredness bleeds into...
SO FAR AWAY: I confess I would have preferred GOING HOME or WILD THEME to this choice, but beggars can't be choosers. And as I said, Mark has delivered in spades up 'til now. The song moves slowly, and it is evident that the boys are darn tired. But suddenly, out of nowhere, the show takes a dramatic turn as we hit the homestretch with...
PIPER TO THE END: As the cheers fade into the muggy air, Mark straightens in his chair once again. Rejuvenated, the man begins to sing. I am amazed at the transformation, and if I didn't literally see him sitting in that chair, I would swear to any man present that Mark actually stood up for this one. The song is so stunning, so heartfelt, that to a person we are left breathless. About halfway through the song, I glance at my wife and see the tears streaming down her face. It is then that the weight of her loss, of our loss, settles in on us. I rest my hand on her leg and we spend the last remaining minutes that we have with Mark grieving. The show ends, our grief does not. But that is okay. Mark has come through for us once again, like he always does. As the crowd gives away their last standing ovation, Mark rises and walks off stage, surrounded by his mates. I take note of the fact that Mark is walking on his own power... and he is not limping. The music has done for him what no therapist could. It has healed him. At least for a time. I wipe my tears and kiss my wife and we march out into the night healed as well. In time, Mark's pain will most likely return, as will ours. But for now, on this night, in this moment... the music has pulled us through. And we are healed.
THE SET LIST:
What It Is
Sailing To Philadelphia
Hill Farmer's Blues
Romeo & Juliet
Sultans Of Swing
Speedway At Nazareth
Brothers In Arms
So Far Away
Piper To The End