A Lighter Side of Life – Mark Knopfler – Hydro, Glasgow – 26th May, 2019
Mark Knopfler makes the point that he can only play one instrument when, within his band, the 10 musicians around him can play a total of 47 instruments. But, what of it when you can play like him? Not just being a master of the guitar but having such a distinctive voice on the instrument that most people can work out who is playing within barely a few spare notes.
Just shy of 70, he is almost unrecognizable these days from the shaggy-haired troubadour with the red headband. The hair is trimmed to nothing and since the last time he was in Glasgow, he adds a heavy framed pair of glasses. More importantly, though, the playing is as good as ever.
He mentions later on that when he was a “young dude”, he travelled with one guitar on his back whereas now that he is an “old bloke”, any number of guitars seem to appear. He is clearly in a more reflective mood tonight as he works his way through a large collection of guitars. It might not be his native Newcastle but Mark Knopfler knows he is with friends whenever he plays in Glasgow. He talks about retirement before dismissing the very idea since he just enjoys playing, And with a band of some of the finest roots musicians around, including John McCusker from Scotland, there is no reason not to continue playing since they can send his songs soaring. Gratifyingly for any performer, the Hydro may not be one hundred percent packed but it is as good as.
The light show is worthy of mention. It comes with no effects or screen images; it is a good old fashioned backdrop of over a hundred ordered lights flanked by spotlights and it creates a visually atmospheric scene without ever distracting from those on stage. Add to that, there are all the instruments around which range from bouzouki, mandolin, flute, whistles, pipes, accordion, bodhran, cittern amongst others which give the concert a Celtic feel even if the lyrics to the songs are less fanciful or mystical.
The show starts with the lively Why Aye Man and Corned Beef City. After Sailing to Philadelphia, he plunges into the Dire Strait’s catalogue with a brace of Once Upon a Time in the West and Romeo and Juliet. He plays a couple of new songs, My Bacon Roll followed by Matchstick Man, the latter a song about youthful hitchhiking (he tended to travel that way with his one guitar throughout Europe before fame came along), at which point he introduces the band and they flesh out the song, culminating with a magical uilleann piping solo from Mike McGoldrick.
From here on, the middle of the set is beautifully played but it tends towards slower and less obviously essential songs like Done with Bonaparte, Heart Full of Holes, She’s Gone and even the Dire Strait’s song, Your Latest Trick. It is natural to look for other songs from his vast catalogue that would have injected a little more energy and variation into the unfolding wistful atmosphere.
By the time Postcards from Paraguay starts with its upbeat Latino rhythms, it is a welcome contrast and it is good to hear those low power chords play out again on Speedway at Nazareth as the closing number. The first encore is Money for Nothing and the second encore is one of the best melancholy songs ever written, Piper to the End. He concludes with Going Home where you can see the entire band visibly relaxing a little more and letting go.
It is not quite perfect this time around but it is still another triumph as the 12,000 crowd’s standing ovation shows.