Once Upon a Time in Austin With Mark Knopfler

Dire Straits deity sells out and serenades the Moody again

How time flies here in Peter Pan town. I would’ve bet the farm Mark Knopfler’s last visit to ACL Live occurred last year, but indeed, a kid could’ve graduated from UT in the actual time elapsed. On Saturday back at the Moody Theater, the UK guitarist, 70 in August, executed a similar show as his last time through town, only sharper, deeper.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Backed by 10 musicians, which included four of them playing guitars of various ilks on the opening number, and highlighted by fiddle, horns, and two percussionists, the bandleader took center stage, but his Les Paul commanded all the attention. Big band arrangements favored generous soloing – trumpet, sax, flute – but Knopfler’s loud, fat, live-wire tone filled seemingly every single seat in Austin’s premier theatre. A faster sell-out may not have occurred yet this year in Austin.

The Nashville jaunt of “Corned Beef City” and TSOP glide of “Sailing to Philadelphia” didn’t prepare those hanging on every note for the almost heavy metal intro to Dire Straits’ widescreen “Once Upon a Time in the West,” which cast its spell much like succeeding bandmate “Romeo & Juliet” – thicker, slower, eternal. What’s lost live in the silken, late-night Stratocaster seduction of six studio albums from Knopfler’s million-selling act becomes a rising symphony of sound live that at times folded in a rainstick, bouzouki, and even bagpipes. The ghost of Roy Bittan – still very much alive and well in the E Street Band – haunted Making Movies’ Shakespearean heartbreaker.

“You and me, babe. How ’bout it?”

Applause rapturous, Knopfler bowed.

“You’re pretty sweet here in Austin,” he murmured in his low tone. “I remember when I first came here … it was on a Greyhound bus.”

He teased us with retirement to a booming local chorus of “Nooooooo,” sat down centerstage after some 40 minutes of picking with his thumb nail, and spun a story about the final and best song on last year’s Down the Road Wherever, “Matchstick Man,” which might have filled a whole concept album: Knopfler’s inveterate hitchhiking youth. About that point in the performance, he petitioned the audience for a nail clipper and of course received it. Meanwhile, the band rose behind him like the Chieftains.

Sax slaying “Your Latest Trick,” the Gipsy Kings’ flourish to “Postcards From Paraguay,” and a locomotive steeliness to “On Every Street” all swayed, danced, and built toward encore Grammy moment “Money for Nothing.” An arena anthem in a theatre always shakes the rafters, and the Moody lit up like the West Texas sky at night. Retire, sir?

“Then I think, ‘What could be better than this?’” concluded Knopfler.

What indeed?

Mark Knopfler set list, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 9.7.19

“Why Aye Man” (The Ragpicker’s Dream, 2002)
“Corned Beef City” (Privateering, 2013)
“Sailing to Philadelphia” (Sailing to Philadelphia, 2000)
“Once Upon a Time in the West” (Dire Straits’ Communiqué, 1979)
“Romeo & Juliet” (Dire Straits’ Making Movies, 1980)
“My Bacon Roll” (Down the Road Wherever, 2018)
“Matchstick Man” (Down the Road Wherever, 2018)
“Done With Bonaparte” (Golden Heart, 1996)
“Heart Full of Holes” (Kill to Get Crimson, 2007)
“Your Latest Trick” (Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, 1985)
“Postcards From Paraguay” (Shangri-La, 2004)
“On Every Street” (Dire Straits’ On Every Street, 1991)
“Speedway at Nazareth” (Sailing to Philadelphia, 2000)
Encore 1
“Money for Nothing” (Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, 1985)
Encore 2
“Going Home: Theme From Local Hero,” Local Hero soundtrack, 1983)

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Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare, Roy Bittan, E Street Band

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