043010 Mark Knopfler, Montreal, QC

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On April 30th, 2010 I woke up in some hotel or another in Montreal* following an orchestral Peter Gabriel concert at the big hockey rink downtown.  I have no idea how I spent my day – though I suspect it involved a significant amount of poutine – but I know I spent my evening in the presence of one of my favourite rock(?) guitar players, the great Mark Knopfler.

The show was at the good old Wilfred-Pelletier Place, Montreal’s comfortable sort-seated concert hall.  It’s the kind of room that ensures a reflective, sit-down type of musical experience which is just about perfect for a non-rager like Knopfler.  Sure, it might be hard to sit still during Twisting By The Pool or maybe even Money For Nothing but virtually all the rest of his material is sedate enough to easily be treated like a jazz show.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Mark Knopfler is musically lethargic by any means.  But take a look at songs like Telegraph Road and Brothers In Arms; these joyous feats are undeniably ‘rock’ songs and while they aren’t ballads they sure register low on the energy register.

But oh so very high on the taste and maturity chart.

And that’s what this show was: mature and tasteful.  Cushy seats, a comfortable volume, and no flashy lights or stage props.  Just a whole lot of musical space left for one of the the world’s great pentatonic colourists, who deftly painted one Picasso single-line masterpiece after another in the simple air with nothing but his bare fingers** and a Fender Stratocaster.  And I just sat up there in the balcony with my eyes closed soaking it all up, letting one shockingly wonderful guitar riff after another tickle my cerebellum.  

It was like a spa-day for my musical skandas.

Even during the encore – the encore now – when Knopfler wanted to get us all really going he shelled out the last of the half-dozen Dire Straits songs of the night, So Far Away.  What a great song, and so pleasantly mellow; I joined the rest of the crowd and slow-rocked from my seat like a soccer mom barely worried about getting home to the sitter on time.  

Gosh, Mark Knopfler is such a nice guitar player and to this date I go see him every chance I get (which isn’t too often).  I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get tired of him but I suspect the older I get the more I’ll like concerts like his.

Which isn’t a dig.  Don’t get me wrong.

*Though I know for a fact this wasn’t the hotel, a funny thing happened to me once in a Montreal hotel and I don’t know where to stick the story, so here it goes.  I was staying at the Hotel Espresso (they offer a cup of free gourmet coffee during checkin) and after whatever show I was in town for my crew got the growlies so we ordered a pizza to our hotel room.  After a wait of Biblical proportions we called the pizza place back and were told the guy showed up long ago and couldn’t find us.  That was impossible (we explained) and after a flurry of head-scratching and a pair of visits to the lobby we finally discovered that we had been the butts of a subtle and somewhat clever long-game practical joke.  

It seems that someone had traded out the telephone in our room for a telephone from the same room number of an entirely different hotel, so when I read the hotel’s address off of the phone to the pizza dude I was inadvertently giving him the wrong information altogether.  Well, except the room number, which was bang-on accurate.  And it’s exactly that room-to-room consistency that makes me admire the prank so much and wonder how long it had waited to be discovered.  And so to that random, unknowable jokester I say: good one.

**Have I mentioned that when I first started playing guitar I saw the Money For Nothing video and discerned that the guitarist was playing with both a pick and two of his right-hand fingers at the same time, a hybrid style that was wholly unfamiliar to me but one I laboriously taught myself and still use almost exclusively today?  Imagine my surprise when after decades of study I found out that I had been mistaken all along.  Mark Knopfler doesn’t use a pick at all, he plays with just his fingers.  For good or ill I’ve deemed it too late to change things.

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