Mark Knopfler’s music catalog is vast and deep. It goes back almost 40 years to the band that made him famous, Dire Straits, who released six studio albums. It also includes nine solo recordings and nine film soundtracks.
For two hours Monday night at the Midland theater, Knopfler and his seven-piece band did their best to plumb that catalog and give a crowd of more than 2,500 an adequate sample of his prowess as a songwriter, composer and inimitable guitar stylist. It was an ambitious mission, but one destined to come up short.
He opened “Broken Bones,” song from “Tracker,” the album he released in March. It’s a blues/R&B-based number built with plenty of space for his signature guitar lines. Then came two tracks from his “Privateering” album, the predecessor to “Tracker”: “Corned Beef City,” a bouncy country-blues shuffle, then the title track, a static, folky story-song, delivered medieval minstrel-style.
Knopfler is an average singer at best, so he writes songs that don’t require a lot of vocal power or agility. He confessed he was suffering a mild cold, although it didn’t seem to affect his singing profoundly. His deadpan vocals often got buried in the music around him, but that seemed more attributable to the prodigious sound produced by his stellar band, which reached orchestral levels a few times.
They are an impressive and formidable ensemble, one that employed a wide array of instruments: guitars, fiddle, electric and standup bass, accordion, uillean pipes, piano, Hammond B3, saxophone, flute, mandolin and several other stringed instruments. All night, they embroidered and decorated his songs with colorful and thoughtful leads and fills. The jousting between the fiddle and standup bass during “Marbletown” was memorable.
Knopfler chatted with his audience throughout the show, usually with droll humor. He advised the crowd that if they gave his band a standing ovation they would get one encore. And if they didn’t, they’d get two.
His set list included a few instrumentals, including “Father and Son,” an elegiac number from the soundtrack to the film “Cal.” After “Skydiver,” a poppy-folk track from “Tracker,” he fed the crowd a heavy dose of what it came for: some Dire Straits.
The intro to “Your Latest Trick,” from the blockbuster “Brothers in Arms” album, was ultra-smooth jazzy but the rest of the song was relatively faithful to the original. Then came an unpolished rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” which elicited a loud response and widespread singing-along. “Sultans of Swing,” the next song, prompted an even louder ovation and included one of the longest jams of the night. To his credit, he played a large swath of the instrumental part just as it was recorded, to the delight of many.
Other highlights: “Speedway at Nazareth,” an Appalachian-blues number from “Sailing to Philadelphia,” one of his better solo albums, and “Haul Away,” a Celtic-tinged lullaby from “Privateering.”
The stage featured two large, tall and sheer drapes, cinched at their bottoms, that were cast in lights that changed colors from one song to the next. Three banks of blinding white lights were also employed to some dramatic affect, glaring and blaring like emergency warnings when the volume of a song rose suddenly.
After a long and dramatic version of “Telegraph Road,” another Dire Straits favorite, the band took a short break and then returned for a two-song encore: “So Far Away,” another “Brothers in Arms” track, and then the jubilant instrumental “Going Home (Theme from Local Hero),” another soundtrack cut. Considering he had so many other well-known songs at his disposal, that one seemed like an odd choice for a closer, although it was also just more evidence that his catalog is an embarrassment of riches.
Broken Bones; Corned Beef City; Privateering; Father and Son; Hill Farmer’s Blues; Skydiver; Your Latest Trick; Romeo and Juliet; Sultans of Swing; Haul Away; Postcards from Paraguay; Marbletown; Speedway at Nazareth; Telegraph Road. Encore: So Far Away; Going Home (Theme from Local Hero).