28 July 2008

Still coming down


OTTAWA - As guitar gods go, it's hard to find one with less flash and celebrity polish than Mark Knopfler.

Dressed in jeans and black shirt without a feather boa in sight, he looked like one of the National Arts Centre's stagehands. An ordinary 58-year-old, working-class shlub out for a night at his local.

But when the former Dire Straits frontman strapped on his electric guitar -- one of eight he played throughout the night -- he transformed into a guitar superhero.
And what a transformation it was.

Unlike his Dire Straits MTV hit Money For Nothing, the one with the salty appraisal of flittery rockstars, "he get's his money for nothing and his chicks for free," Knopfler worked reasonably hard for his pay packet.

Backed by a veteran house band of multi-instrumentalists including piano-player Guy Fletcher, Glenn Worf on bass, drummer Danny Cummings, fiddler John McCusker and guitarist Richard Bennett, Knopfler did what any smart musical superhero does and kept a low profile early in the show. With a stack of vintage-looking Marshall amps and speakers behind him, he kicked things off with his honky-tonk Cannibals, Why Aye Man, the soothing ballad What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia. All lovely Celtic settings for Knopfler's unmistakably spare solo guitar.

Here his performance was gorgeously deliberate, as if he was picking one note at a time out of the air.

Then, with a thick Maritime fog blowing across the Southam Hall stage, Knopfler went straight for the jugular with lots of subdued emotion on True Love Will Never Fade, The Fish and The Bird and two hits from his Dire Straits' days, Romeo and Juliet and the show-stopping Sultans of Swing, with a long stretch of guitar on which he really let it rip. Even if Knopfler sang as if he had a lozenge in his mouth, something akin to an occasional whisper, it was his guitar playing that was loud and fabulously articulate, and got the sold-out house cheering deliriously on their feet.

By then, Knopfler settled down to some serious big bad blues with Song for Sonny Liston and Marbletown before deadline beckoned me away from what was one of the best concerts of pure music-making you'll see at the NAC.

Pics at my flickr site : http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickiegirlca/sets/72157606256755286/