Bowl of Brooklands
Saturday 19 March 2005
Mark Knopfler - Guitar/Vocals
Richard Bennett - Guitar
Glenn Worf - Bass
Chad Cromwell - Drums
Matt Rollings - Keys
Guy Fletcher - Keys
It’s 7:30pm and the audience is steadily arriving. The Bowl proves to be a fabulous choice of venue by Mark’s management, with ducks swimming on the lake in front of the stage, the lightest of breezes rustling through the trees, and everyone is remarking how good the weather is for this evening’s concert, and congratulating each other on obtaining such excellent seats. A few lucky people are exchanging stories of having bumped into band members whilst wandering around town during the day. There is a slight apprehension in the air, it’s been fourteen years since Mark last played in New Zealand – can the man still deliver the goods?
Within seconds of the lads walking on stage, and the powerful sound reinforcement system bursting into life, all fears were quashed. The first set begins with ‘Why Aye Man’, complete with extended instrumental section. Perhaps too long an instrumental section? Memories of the drawn-out ‘Ride Across the River’ from 1986 come flooding back.
2nd up is ‘Walk of Life’. Although many Europeans have called for this particular song to be dropped from the setlist following previous tours, it’s been fourteen years since it has been played live in NZ, and the crowd roars when Guy Fletcher hits the first notes of that oh so familiar melody. It’s worth noting that Mark has slowed this number right down, it has much more of a groove to it now than ever before. I liked it.
‘What It Is’ and ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’ pass without incident, before the crowd are treated to the haunting keyboard introduction to ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The crowd goes wild within seconds of the first notes being played on Mark’s National Steel guitar. (The “scrap metal” as he described it later in the evening)
After this, Matt and Guy left the stage, (cup of Earl Grey was it Guy?) for a back to basics version of the classic ‘Sultans of Swing’. This masterpiece of modern music continues to evolve, with a significantly altered instrumental section, and of course no keyboards or sax solo.
With ‘Sultans’ complete, a change in pace ensued, Matt returning to the stage with his accordion, and Guy with an acoustic guitar. Mark took the opportunity to introduce the band members to the audience whilst a second drum kit was being wheeled onto the stage so that the six band members could be closer together for the more restrained, central section of the concert. Richard and Mark launched into ‘Done with Bonaparte’ after a humourous false start, Richard attempting to play the song unplugged. One wonders if perhaps this was a planned stunt, as a similar event occurred at the Adelaide show.
Following this was ‘Song for Sonny Liston’, played by Mark, Glenn and Chad. The groove generated by the trio of musicians was just brilliant, far exceeding all expectations afforded by the studio version of this track. It was about this point in the proceedings that I wished Mark was a little more outgoing in his banter with the audience. This central section of the concert would have provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the beautiful surroundings, it was dark by this time, the lights in the surrounding trees were taking effect, and the ducks had returned to swim on the lake during the quieter songs.
‘Donegan’s Gone’ and ‘Rudiger’ rounded out the central section of the concert, and it was then back to the rock and roll with the first single off the Shangri-La album, ‘Boom, Like That’. A well recovered from ‘oh, bugger’ moment here, with the strap slipping off the body end of Mark’s guitar part way through his first solo, and his guitar tech not noticing until partway into the next verse that Mark was in trouble. Mark recovered admirably, wedging the guitar against his body with his right forearm for the second half of his solo, and the first half of the next verse, the only audible fault coming as Mark grabbed at his axe to prevent it hitting the deck. Well done Mark.
Next came what was to be the only real disappointment of the entire gig, ‘Speedway at Nazareth’. This should have been the big rock number, and the build up during the vocal section promised nothing less, however the band was let down by the sound mix during the instrumental section, with the drums overpowering everything else, and I could only really tell what the guitarists were playing by watching their fingers. Chad was really going to town, this was his big show piece, and perhaps it sounded better elsewhere on the ground, but from the first few rows it was really quite ho-hum.
The main section of the concert was completed with the ever-impressive epic, ‘Telegraph Road’. Words cannot describe the emotions this song brings out in me, and the boys absolutely nailed it tonight. Just brilliant.
The first encore was ‘Brothers in Arms’, and once again the crowd went wild when they recognised the opening notes from Mark’s guitar. Interesting to see Chris White’s flute part (from Dire Straits days) being played by Matt on accordion. It worked well. The crowd were on their feet by the end of ‘Brothers’, and once into ‘Money for Nothing”, the security staff were kept busy in their attempts to keep the path in front of the lake clear of people.
The band left the stage after ‘Money for Nothing’ (another Earl Grey, Guy?) as the crowd cheered for more, and Mark soon obliged with another favourite from the ‘Brothers in Arms’ album, ‘So Far Away’. The entire audience were up on their feet dancing to this song, and security gave up trying to keep the pathways clear, allowing the audience to enjoy the moment. It was magnificent.
The crowd just wouldn’t stop shouting for more, and Mark came to the party with yet another encore, ‘Our Shangri-La’, the first time this has been played following Mark’s battle with laryngitis. The final extended instrumental section matched the mood of the evening perfectly, with everyone in the audience again on their feet dancing. It was a truly magical moment.
The concert was concluded with ‘The Mist Covered Mountains”, and “Wild Theme” from the ‘Local Hero’ soundtrack, the latter being played by just Mark and Guy, whilst the remainder of the band one assumes make a quick dash for the hotel.
In conclusion - Mark by nature has an introverted and reserved character, but that is totally overshadowed by his undeniable ability to create melodies, and craft those melodies into memorable songs in a multitude of musical genres. His unique guitar playing style enables him to deliver a performance that sets him apart from the many other musicians touring the world today.
Our man still rocks. If he’s playing in a town near you - get yourself a ticket fast.