Mark Knopfler – o2 Arena, London, UK (28/05/19)

Having broken Dire Straits up over 20 years ago Mark Knopfler has never looked back. His exceptional live show continues to prove that their music maintains its inability to age, even though perhaps Knopfler himself is showing signs that his 70th year is approaching.

With queues to get into the o2 Arena stretching out into their strangely pristine, yet hauntingly empty new shopping centre, Knopfler’s entry to the stage was pushed back by a full 30 minutes. With no support band, you’d expect the audience to be riled up and slightly less enthusiastic… but alas, no. The 20,000 strong audience erupts into a flurry of sound you wouldn’t expect from a room full of such advanced ages.

‘Why Aye Man’ kicks the set off, with Knopfler’s distinctive guitar tone echoing around the venue within seconds. As one of his finest solo tunes, the extended solos that bring it to a close are welcome, while Knopfler’s voice holds up surprisingly well while singing the immensely catchy chorus. The bizarrely titled ‘Corned Beef City’ follows, before ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’ (originally recorded with James Taylor) brings a haunting beauty to the o2 after a light-hearted opening.

It isn’t uncommon for a band member to go off and do their own thing eventually. Certain extremes exist, with Roger Waters mostly avoiding his solo work and filling his sets with crowd pleasing big hitters; while Peter Gabriel has famously avoided all of his stunning Genesis material in his solo shows. Knopfler takes a slightly safer middle route, handing about a third of his set over to Dire Straits.

‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ and ‘Romeo And Juliet’ get the biggest roar since Knopfler took to the stage. While having possibly the most distinctive guitar tone in all of music, until the acoustic guitar comes out it doesn’t really make much sense why he changes instrument between virtually every tune. This starts to have its detriments during the final moments of ‘Romeo And Juliet’, where the peaceful music is interrupted by a few crushingly loud guitar cable buzzes that continue into his first interaction with the audience. ‘I love you’, someone shouts from the audience; ‘I might well love you too’, he responds.

The story of his early music career attempting to hitch-hike from Penzance to Newcastle on Christmas Day enlivens the acoustic beauty of ‘Matchstick Man’, but unfortunately, he follows this up with the distinct dullness of three tracks that sound basically identical. The lack of Dire Straits tunes such as ‘Telegraph Road’ and ‘Sultans Of Swing’ (or even some big hitting solo tracks like ‘What It Is’) make you wonder why these clearly inferior songs that quite literally no-one in the audience would rather hear are actually present in the set.

Things pick up as ‘Your Latest Trick’ and ‘On Every Street’ come out towards the end of the set, but it is the encore that really sends chills around the entire arena through its synth heavy intro, explosive drum fills and exceptional, non-aging riff. Knopfler rarely plays ‘Money For Nothing’ live, but bringing it out on this tour really does feel like something special. His band pull off every nuance of the track as convincingly as Dire Straits would have themselves, and the applause that sees the band off the stage hammers home what an honour it is to see such an accomplished and humble musician continue to perform the music he loves.

Until the next encore. And the next. While the first does bring ‘Brothers In Arms’ out complete with mesmerising solo, but the third and final does seem like overkill in the gradual build up of ‘Going Home’, the award winning soundtrack to ‘Local Hero’. Despite having more endings than Lord Of The Rings, the appreciation felt for the band is inspiring, while the genuine appreciation that Knopfler himself holds for his fans is shown in the continued passion of his performance.    

Mark Knopfler continues his European tour this year.