[Favoured nation status photographer Andrei Chlytchkov was out with his camera again, making it down front at the Mark Knopfler show at The Sony Centre in Toronto August 25. Text by L. Benny Sanders. – AC]
A Sultan at The Sony Centre
It’s not just about the music, Mrs. Wolf–but in this case, that could suffice. This was no ordinary band, and their leader was no ordinary chief. Thanks to Ross (sound master of the hall) and the Sony Centre sound system, every one of the 11 members on the stage tonight were heard clearly and individually. The lighting effects were the non-musical bits that rocketed the show to its full brilliance.
Mark Knopfler by himself would have been a show. As part of an 11 piece ‘orchestra’, he was the central nervous system that connected the body, the head that kept each limb in concert, in sync, composed through the 16-song setlist.
His voice instantly recognizable, but smoother and a bit more mellow. He received a standing ovation before he had played a note.
Beginning with “Why Aye Man” (and its mention of Maggie’s Farm) a song telling of how difficult life is for the working poor in the UK and that many have to go to Germany to find work. He followed up with “Corned Beef City,” “Sailing to Philadelphia” and then the Dire Straits hit “Once Upon a Time in the West”. Not only were we treated to all the instrumentation that 11 incredibly talented performers can provide, but in many songs, there were five to eight people singing backup vocals and harmonies.
Thankfully, frequent concert attendee Steve (who was sitting with his wife Michelle) was in my row, and he kept me updated as to the names of the songs and details about their pedigree. He told me that the one he was impatiently awaiting was “Romeo and Juliet” (the fifth tune of the evening) and when the piece arrived, I found myself very drawn into the story. It was a song written for Dire Straits and it was one of my favourites of the evening.
And all I do is miss you and the way we used to be
All I do is keep the beat and bad company
All I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme,
Julie I’d do the stars with you any time.
Knopfler is a teller of stories, in his banter and very much in his lyrics. Most of the band members changed instruments with every song. I tried to keep track and almost managed to.
Just before the sixth number of the night, He introduced the band. This itself was a short novel. He told how each member came to be a part of his ensemble. He explained that he played only one instrument (although there were Strats (including his famous Hot Rod Stratocaster) Les Pauls (a custom 1958), a Rickenbacker, and a Dobro amongst the collection. Between the other ten musicians onstage, they played 49 different ones.
They included: Richard Bennett – various guitars, Guy Fletcher – keyboards, Tom Walsh – trumpet, (I missed the name of the musician playing) – saxophone, Danny Cummings – percussion, Ian Thomas – drums, Glenn Worf – upright and electric bass,Jim Cox– keyboards, Mike McGoldrick – whistle, various flutes, tenor guitar, pipes (and whom he said could likely play a watering can) and John McCusker – fiddle (and most of the same instruments that Mike plays).
The rest of the set was peppered with songs from the new album (“My Bacon Roll” and “Matchstick Man”) and Dire Straits tunes (“Your Latest Trick” and “Every Street”) but “Postcards From Paraguay” stood out for me.
A number with an obviously Latin feel, and a bank of multi-coloured lights to produce a festive street-carnival backdrop. With a flash of light at the conclusion of “Speedway at Nazareth”, it was all over except for the three encores.
The encore, “Money For Nothing,” was presented so perfectly that this live version would have surely outsold the original. With three voices singing “I want my MTV” and another five countering with “Money for nothing and your chicks for free” backing Knopfler’s so distinctive proclamation of how easy life is as a musician.
The second encore “Brothers in Arms,” a golden track from Mark’s old band.
After so much audience hollering, the third, and final, encore was “Going Home” (Mark’s local football club, Newcastle United F.C., uses it as an anthem at home games).
I discussed the concert with my friend Kid Rock (our own home town concert celebrity) and he was rather put out that “Sultan’s of Swing” was notably absent from the lineup. Photographer Andre and I spoke of this afterward and he suggested that maybe the words “They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, It ain’t what they call rock and roll” may lend a clue. The band certainly was rock n rollin’, but seeing as the brass often led the charge, Knopfler certainly gives a damn about the horns blowin’ that sound.