On July 3rd, 2005 I had the extreme pleasure of seeing the wonderfully talented Mark Knopfler in the acoustically splendid and locationally convenient National Arts Centre, just a warm summer’s stroll up the placid Rideau Canal.
The world is short on bona fide guitar gods that are better to see in a sit-down theatre than a fist-pumping concert arena, but Mark Knopfler is one of them (John McLaughlin is the other). True as it is, this fact strikes me as a bit odd this morning. I first became aware of Dire Straits through their early hit Industrial Disease, a remarkable bit of near-rap monotone poetry that name-drops Bette Davis, the BBC, and two different Jesus’s and is impossible to sit down through. Then the band became a household name when they released Brothers in Arms and their undeniable dance-rock hit Walk of Life was all over the radio, and then there is Twistin’ By the Pool.
But when I think of Mark Knopfler the guitar god I think of songs like Romeo and Juliet, Brothers in Arms, and Telegraph Road (the very song that elevated Knopfler to god-like status in my young mind), all of which he played at this show as I sat comfortably and marvelled. Even Sultans of Swing – replete as it is with two absolutely legendary and utterly perfect guitar solos – is best heard sitting down, all the better with eyes shut and ears piqued towards the glory, as I did when he played it midset.
His penultimate offering on this night was Money for Nothing, a song that centres around one of the most delicious guitar riffs and timbres of the late twentieth century, but not one to make you jump out of your seat to dance. And if we did, closing the show with the most dirgeful hit song of all time that isn’t a ballad* So Far Away – which comes in at a jeremiad seventy-six beats per minute – would have sat us right back down again. But we didn’t, because we didn’t.
Which is all streaming preamble to the simple fact that despite being at a “rock” show I was thrilled to sit in a cushy seat and concentrate on the astounding melodicism within Mark Knopfler’s uncanny manipulations of the pentatonic minor scale, just like I do when I’m listening to the music of one of the classical masters that the orchestra hall was designed to feature.
Classic rock, indeed.
*Tied with Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.