Photos by Angelo Marchini
Mark Knopfler and his band brought their Down the Road Wherever tour to Toronto to a room of devoted fans who were treated to a little over two hours of music on Sunday night. Eleven accomplished musicians graced the Sony Centre stage with Knopfler looming front and centre.
With no opening act, Knopfler dove straight into Why Aye Man and it was immediately apparent that the audience was in for a very special music ride. The former Dire Straits front man’s song featured small moments of intimacy, like the interplay between the horns and the fiddle. In fact, throughout the evening, it was as though the horn section, and the fiddle and flute duo standing stage right were having a musical side conversation that punctuated almost every song. Most of the songs and their arrangements were rich and mellow, tinged with a Celtic sound that evoked a distant mythical place.
A few songs later, Once Upon a Time in the West, a Dire Straits tune, offered the first real up-beat song of the night. There was a funky, bluesy feel to the arrangement and the energy-shift was palpable. From there, Knopfler played one of his most loved tunes, Romeo and Juliet. Knopfler’s voice is all gravel and rasp, making it hard at times to hear the lyrics, but when he communicated via fingers and guitar strings, there was no mistaking the message. The years have not diminished his signature sound. About midway through the show, Knopfler took on the guise of a storyteller, relating a tale from his youth wherein he hitchhiked 500 miles home to Newcastle late one Christmas Eve. A kind trucker took him part way there, leaving him alone at a snow-covered roundabout early on Christmas morning without another soul in sight. The song that was inspired by that experience was calm and poignant and had the hazy feel of an old man looking back at his youth.
As his guitar tech brought him his next guitar, Knopfler quipped, “When I was a kid, all I wanted was one guitar; now they’re everywhere.” It’s true – the man has collected a lot of beautiful guitars. At one point, the entire band came to the front of the stage to perform a couple of songs. The collective talent was exceptional from start to finish. Knopfler took his time introducing the band, giving each man more than a passing nod. It turns out that while Mark Knopfler plays only one instrument (albeit incredibly well), the 11 men together play a remarkable 49 different instruments. Knopfler questioned during the show, why one would retire, when they can keep playing songs for people? Why, indeed.
The main set ended with a resounding Speedway at Nazareth. With both the volume and the energy raised, the crowd rose and cheered emphatically. As ever, the encore ritual was performed, with the band disappearing for a few minutes and the audience begging for more. When the faints strains of “I want my, I want my MTV” could be heard, the audience thrilled. The long build-up, the crashing drums, the classic guitar riff – Money for Nothing still sounds great. Again, the band left and returned, this time to play Brothers in Arms and Going Home, the theme from Local Hero. The instrumental jam seemed a most fitting way to end the night.