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magic mark

November 8, 2012

Last night was a big night for me. I hit my “Dylan Dozen” milestone (yes, I realize this is a completely made-up life benchmark, just go with it) and I finally had the extreme pleasure of seeing Mark Knopfler live – cross that one off the ol’ Bucket List.

Knopfler opened the show with a gorgeous rendition of “What It Is Now” one of my favorite of his post-Dire Straits hits. Like the rest of his set, the song had a strong Anglo-Saxon folk music bent. There were about eight guys onstage in his band playing a dizzying array of traditional instruments behind Knopfler’s signature lead guitar. I’d heard this from others who have seen him, but his playing is really just a thing of beauty to behold. He makes it look so effortless.

Bob Dylan & Mark Knopfler PosterThe setlist was predominantly songs from his solo albums. At one point Mark, who must have been getting “Money For Nothing” shouts from the front row, teased the audience “These requests? Yeah, we aren’t  gonna play any of those.” He did play a couple of gems out of the Dire Straits catalog – “Brothers in Arms” and “So Far Away” both of which fit nicely into the general tone of his set. (The “I want my MTV” refrain wouldn’t have really jibed with the accordion, mandolin, flute and upright bass onstage).

Between Knopfler and Dylan there was about a 15 minute intermission, at which time I found myself stuck in one of the weirder conversations of my life. The man sitting next to me, who I had been silently cursing during much of Knoplfer’s set for talking to his buddy, struck up a conversation with me before I had a chance to escape. He started by saying that he had gone to high school with Dylan up in Hibbing (this is Minnesota after all folks). I instantly perked up at the thought of having a candid conversation with one of Dylan’s peers, even an annoying chatty one. But everything started falling apart when he told me how he’d been down on the floor before the show and thrown a CD of his own songs to a roadie with a request that it get to Bob. He of course included his phone number and address, in case Bob wanted to meet up with him. He was pretty sure that Bob would remember him and he was now very excited for him to stop by for a chat about the old days. From there the conversation backslid rapidly into how he “should have been dead 11 different times” and “this is a picture of my granddaughter who looks like you” territory… Let’s just say I was more than relieved when the lights went down for Bob’s set.

Mark Knopfler Live

Making it look so easy…

Bob was in good spirits for his set (Obama victory perhaps?). Knopfler joined him for three songs – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Things Have Changed,” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” For me, it was a magical combination. As someone who first started seeing Dylan shows in the Love & Theft era having Knopfler onstage opened a window into a totally different kind of Dylan. That 2001 album marked the advent of Dylan’s foray into a heavily Country & Western-influenced sound and stage show. Knopfler’s presence added a buoyancy to the tunes and pushed Dylan’s vocals into a place I hadn’t ever heard him go in a live show. The growl was softened, the melody (mostly) adhered to, the music allowed to stretch from a Hank Williams space to a Jerry Garcia space. It was brilliant, and when he left the stage after “Tangled Up in Blue” (not to return for the rest of the night) I actually felt a little deflated. Not that Dylan didn’t bring the show home on his own, he’s more than capable of that, and the rest of his set was great. Dylan-only highlights were a wonderful piano-based version of Hard Rain and the appearance of “Early Roman Kings” off this year’s Tempest album.

It was a fantastic night of music. Two great solo sets and three songs worth of magical overlap.  Hearing the synergy between Knopfler and Dylan made the Slow Train Coming album all of a sudden make sense. That album, Dylan’s most Christian creation, was backed by Knopfler along with Dire Strait’s drummer, and their gifted musicianship surely helped to rescue it from spending eternity close to the bottom of the seven million incarnations of Dylan album rankings.

The Dylan concert count now sits safely at 12. And my bucket list has shrunk to just two unlikely list mates (though the idea of a Dolly Parton & The Rolling Stones show is pretty awesome daydream fodder…). Keith and Mick, and I’m ready for that US tour announcement any day now…

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