Mark Knopfler has gladly embraced the role of rock elder statesman.
ynonymous through his Dire Straits years with virtuosic riffing, husky singalongs and day-glo headbands, at 65 the iconic guitarist seems happy to have left the frippery behind. Or, at least, to have exchanged one sort of frippery for another, with mandolins, uilleann pipes and a bald lieutenant tooting frantic flute solos now a staple of his life set.
Under less skillful direction an evening of songs about pirates and medieval harvest – such would appear to be Knopfler's chief lyrical concerns nowadays – might have flirted with absurdity. But Knopfler was persuasively deadpan while his strategic deployment of those trademark licks ensured that even when the subject matter threatened to go a bit Blackadder, you still knew you were at a rock concert.
He had a new album to plug, always a worry for diehards looking forward to a night of classics. Was it a cause of celebration or lament that material from Tracker was a universe removed from Dire Straits? The distinctly yeasty Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes, for instance, felt just one lute run away from self parody. On the other hand, you have to credit Knopfler for not wishing to merely circle the drain of previous accomplishments – whatever else, he could never be accused of coasting on old glories.
As per unspoken agreement with the crowd, the later stages of the set were provisioned with Dire Straits nuggets. Romeo and Juliet was supplemented by Nigel Hitchcock's nimble saxophone; Sultans of Swing and So Far Away testified to Knopfler's distinctive brand of virtuosity, wide-screen yet somehow un-showy. These moments confirmed one of soft rock's great heroes was alive and kicking – and a reminder, too, that, if his interests had moved on somewhat, fans still clung tightly to the past.