050201 Mark Knopfler, Ottawa, ON

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If I’m not mistaken, May 2nd, 2001 might very well have been the first time I saw one of my favourite guitar players live when Mark Knopfler played Ottawa’s WordPerfect Theatre, just outside of Ottawa.

(I mean, c’mon now.  As if the Palladium doesn’t go through enough corporate labelship bouncing from the Corel Centre to Scotiabank Place to The Canadian Tire Centre, they have to sell naming rights to even more companies to describe the room when they curtain off half of the venue?!?  That, my friends, is what the “WordPerfect Theatre” was (is?), the sponsored name given to the Corel Centre when an act isn’t big enough to fill the 20,000 seat venue and the room is instead partitioned down to a smaller space.  I don’t know why I find the proliferation of transient corporate naming rights so downright nauseating, but I sure do.)

I remember being very, very excited to witness Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing in person; like, thinking-about-the-show-for-days kind of excited.  I mean, when it comes to rock guitar playing the guy is just the epitome of taste.  He’s everything they say about Clapton actually come true.  When young musicians would argue back and forth in the ‘Letters’ section of guitar magazines throughout the ’80’s and ’90’s about technique versus taste, it was Knopfler that was usually presented as a prime example of the intangible “taste” side (while guys like Malmsteen and Vai were generally pawns for the “technique” argument).

Funny how people struggle to define musical “taste”.  It’s really quite simple: it means you play thoughtfully and leave a lot of space.  The problem is, “space” means silence – ie Not Playing – and one thing that completely baffles most guitar soloists is how to Not Play.  You’d swear these guys were walking around without pockets.  Just take your hands off the guitar and put them away until you think of something super-extra awesome to play, and be sure not to think of too much.  Once you’ve finished playing the super-extra awesome bit, simply take your hands off of the instrument and put them away again.  With practise, you’ll find the pockets of your jeans work excellent for developing musical taste.

So anyway, Mark Knopfler excels at this.  He’s so good that he doesn’t actually have to put his hands away anymore.  He can actually just stop and think…it’s like he’s playing silence out loud.

As parenthesized, the room was cut in half by a wide black curtain, propelling my upper-level seats to within reasonable distance of my hero on the stage.  And the show was great.  Of course he peppered us with a healthy smattering of Dire Straits hits like Calling Elvis, Walk Of Life, and of course the obligatory Sultans Of Swing, but even the unfamiliar solo stuff was amazing, packed as they were with Knopfler’s stellar, positively inspirational guitar playing.  I mean, the guy is a guitar player’s guitar player, and judging by the drool all over the floor of the arena after the concert the place had obviously been chock full of guitar players.

The show closed with the epic Telegraph Road – which was worth the price of admission right there – before encoring with a classic three-punch in Brothers In Arms, Money For Nothing, and So Far Away, so everyone walked out of there happy.

Especially me, awash as I was in the glow of finally seeing the great Mark Knopfler live.

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