D.A.R. Constitution Hall
25 April 2001
This one takes us way back to a time before SHANGRI-LA. Before ALL THE ROADRUNNING and REAL LIVE ROADRUNNING. To a time before 9/11. I am going to post a review of the first time I ever experienced a Mark Knopfler solo performance. I saw Dire Straits in 1992 - and may well post a review of that show someday - but on 25 April 2001, one day after my 29th birthday, I attended the SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA Tour at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. It was a magical night.
But before you read this review, you must set your mind to a time when you had never seen MK perform his solo work live in concert. You must remember a time when you felt that first rush of excitement at hearing a song live that you had never heard live before. In short, you must forget that you have seen MK live at all. It was that kind of night.
On 25 April 2001, Mark Knopfler appeared at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in support of his latest album, SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA. Tickets were cheap by today’s standards, only $52 dollars for floor seats. I remember telling my wife not to expect too many Dire Straits songs. This was, after all, a solo MK outing. I had not yet met my wife in 1992 when I saw Dire Straits for the first and only time in concert, and I never saw or heard any announcements of Mark’s 1996 GOLDEN HEART Tour… so this night was to be a first in many ways. Having prepared my wife for a full set of solo material – which she was not nearly as familiar with as she was with the good old days of the Straits – we set out for D.C. I had attended numerous concerts at DAR Constitution Hall prior to 2001. Tears For Fears, Joe Satriani and others. I knew the layout. I've heard this venue described in all sorts of ways: small, intimate, luscious, an atmosphere conducive to collective imagination... (OK, I admit I came up with that one on my own!) and it is all of those things and more. It' s also the one place I know for sure that you cannot get a bad seat. And for this show, we were on the floor! My wife and I arrived, parked nearby and walked in the cool of the April air. We entered the auditorium, bought a T-Shirt and a Tour Programme, and stepped into the cold, brisk air conditioned air of the seating bowl. The Usher led us to our seats… not a long walk as I soon realized that we were in the very last row on the floor! But for anyone who was attended a show at DAR Constitution Hall can attest, last row does not mean bad seats. We settled in… and not long after the lights dimmed.
The most vivid memory I have from that night was hearing the opening chords of CALLING ELVIS, being played slightly slower than on the ’92 Tour. “Holy shit!” I thought, “That’s Clling Elvis!” Mark appeared slowly, confidently, from stage left, and began to play. Chad Cromwell set the beat and Glenn Worf laid down the bass. And there it was… CALLING ELVIS! Try to remember… I had prepared my wife (and myself) for nothing but SOLO material. CALLING ELVIS was the first of many surprises that night.
CALLING ELVIS gave way very quickly to WALK OF LIFE, and suddenly it seemed like it was 1992 all over again. After WALK ended, there seemed to be a stunned ovation. It was as if the entire venue had been expecting nothing but solo material. We were all very happy to be so wrong. Mark slid easily onto a stool and prepared for the next song. He chatted amiably. The audience quieted slightly, and I was so overcome with joy at this very point in the show, that I uncontrollably shouted: “We missed you, Mark!” This drew a slight smile from the man himself, and yes, you can hear me shout it on the bootleg recording from that night. That’s why I did it.
Finally came the solo material that I had been expecting. WHO’S YOUR BABY NOW? came next, with Mark leaning against his stool and smiling as he sang. RUDIGER followed, slow, deliberate and a bit menacing. What a joy to finally hear that song live! And then came the moment of the night which I will never forget. Mark told the story of how, as a small lad growing up in Scotland, he had been subjected to hours of Scottish Highland music. This music had influenced Mark on an almost unconscious level, and he explained that during the recording of STP, he found himself playing bits of an old Scottish song, THE BONNIE BANKS OF LOCH LOMMOND. Mark proceeded to show everyone present exactly how it came to be that bits of that song ended up deep within the melody for WHAT IT IS. It was moments like this that proved what I have known about Mark all along - he never tries to come off as hip or pompous or anything remotely marketable. He just is what he is and he plays what he plays. And giving the audience a glimpse into the history of a particular song was a flourish that felt honest and ever so genuine, refreshing and true.
WHAT IT IS is a song about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a gathering of Military Bands from around the world held at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. The Bands play traditional Military songs and march together in the cold night air. Drummers drum and pipers play. It is quite stirring. The highlight of the show occurs when a lone Scottish Piper stands high above the crowd, perched precariously on the Castle walls, and plays a sorrowful tune. In August of 2000, I attended the Edinburgh Military Tattoo while on my honeymoon in Scotland, and witnessed firsthand the lone Scottish Piper, high up on the parapet. I heard the drums, rather, felt them, and I was stirred beyond belief. It truly was as if some ancient relative had “stared into my soul.” On that night in D.C., Mark did something during WHAT IT IS that forever cemented my memories from my trip to Scotland. He changed the lyric from “cold on the tollgate, with the Caledonian blues…” to “cold on the tollgate, where the drums beat the Tattoo.” It was at that moment that I knew I had shared something that only a few have ever seen. And Mark was among them.
The show rolled on, Mark trading his stool for his National Steel and ROMEO AND JULIET. The Straits songs were back as R&J gave way to a raucous version of SULTANS OF SWING. Once the band finished a screaming take on SULTANS, Mark commented that he needed to trim his nails as he had unexpectedly broken a nail during the song! A vast collection of solo material followed with versions of DONE WITH BONAPARTE (with Glenn on his “large instrument” and the rest of the band “trying to keep up!”) PRAIRIE WEDDING, JUNKIE DOLL, BALONEY AGAIN and PYROMAN. And then back to the Straits, and possibly one of the greatest live songs Mark has ever played… TELEGRAPH ROAD. As the keys began their soft call, and the song built to its guitar blasting start, I found myself overcome once again, shouting my excitement into the night air at just the moment before Mark began to strum. This was a pattern I would repeat in later years as Mark brought his SHANGRI-LA Tour to Wolftrap in Vienna, Virginia. The song built to a thunderous conclusion, leaving the audience stunned and amazed. Talk about shock and awe! The band took their leave us of then, for a bit. When they returned, BROTHERS IN ARMS came with them. The hall was silent as Mark gave a soulful rendition. Small lights dazzled and danced above and around the dark stage, and by the time I realized that the song was nearing its conclusion, I was crying. In this moment I realized the second thing I have always known about Mark's music... it is a living organism. It breathes and moves and slithers and whispers. It is alive, this music. And everyone inside the hall was alive in it. All that was left was MONEY FOR NOTHING and SO FAR AWAY. Oh, how I prayed for WILD THEME or even GOING HOME, but SO FAR AWAY was how Mark left us that night… adding in the lyric: “Here I am again in Washington, and you’re so far away form me.” Lights up, game over. In the end, Mark split the show exactly down the middle in terms of solo songs and Dire Straits tracks, devoting eight slots to each and one slot for an unreleased PYROMAN.
We left on a high that felt like it would last forever. Six months later, the Towers fell, the Pentagon burned and a field in Pennsylvania became a heroes’ graveyard. Innocence died and night descended upon us all. But in April of 2001, we were all safe and warm and basking in the glow of one special night of music. I have often wondered what would have happened if that concert had been given in October or November of 2001 instead of April. Could music have helped heal us? Could Mark's magical fingers have provided an outlet for our grief? Maybe. Probably. Yes. It would not be until 2005 that I would experience another night of MK’s magic. And it was worth the wait.
Until the next Tour…