Mark Knopfler doesn't do showboating. Head down, focus on, that signature, red and white Fender Stratocaster wrapped around his frame, one of rock music's most treasured, six-string virtuosos is all about the subtle approach. So, too, are the fans.
Every now and then, they'll sing along or give a standing ovation. It's a slow build. When Knopfler and his supporting players eventually make their way down the epic Telegraph Road, the audience lets loose. They're going to ditch their seats; leg it to the front - get as close as possible to the former Dire Straits ringleader.
An elder statesman of British rock, Knopfler has a new album to plug, the critically-approved Tracker - his eighth solo release in 20 years (Dire Straits officially called it a day back in 1995). Actually, this is the first night of a new tour - perhaps that might have something to do with Knopfler and his gang's understated, careful approach to … no, wait. We've seen this guy do his thing before. This is business as usual.
You don't go to a Mark Knopfler gig and expect the bloke to perform somersaults or butter up the fans with various jokes and anecdotes. Heck, it's a shock to hear the 65-year-old name-check our city in So Far Away's opening line. It's a fairly strict affair, then, Knopfler only ever opening his mouth in between songs to introduce guest musicians and familiar band mates.
The music is extraordinary. True, you can't beat a good trip down memory lane. There's a double knockout in the middle - a note-perfect rendition of the timeless Romeo and Juliet followed by a four-piece blues-rock shuffle through the unbeatable Sultans of Swing.
These are the kind of treats that we deserve, and Knopfler - a phenomenal player - still gets a kick out of 'em.
He and his exquisite band are equally magnetic when sweeping through traditional, folk and roots-rock soundscapes (Kingdom of Gold, Postcards from Paraguay and the charming Marbletown). There are no big distractions, big screens or big egos. There's nowt flashy nor fussy about this performance. This is a proper music man with proper tunes - why ruin things with special effects? That instantly recognisable voice is in excellent shape, too. Well, the chap never did stretch himself in the vocal department, so why wouldn't it be?
Granted, Knopfler isn't immune to occasional bouts of self-indulgence, but you know what? The gig lasts 130 minutes, and it flies in. It's too late to go searching for charisma, but in his own unique way, Mark Knopfler already has it by the bucket load. HHHHI
> CHRIS WASSER