Montreux Jazz Festival 2010: Grand Geneva Finales
Just before the band took the stage, a politely humorous gentleman shuffled out and implored folks, on behalf of Knopfler, not to detract from their neighbors' experience by using cell phone cameras or other recorders. "Please respect Mark's wishes and resist the temptation to use these devices," concluded the crewman. Nice sentiment. You can guess how many seconds it was before some goober stuck a glowing mini-screen into 30 peoples' immediate plane of vision. When ushers attempted to enforce the no film policy it was even more of a distraction. Leisure humanity at their finest.
Maybe its the vast variety of human elements in Knopfler's perceptive portraits that strike such a strong chord with so many of his followers, and why the Dire Straits catalogue continues to thrive. It probably shouldn't have been a surprise that Knopfler's loud, loyal crowd was by far the grittiest and probably most devoted in a festival with no shortage of intense headlining characters. A large number of patrons held a drink in each hand. It was a moody blue collar atmosphere, and Knopfler was definitely the working class guitar hero. The swarm crammed into Stravinski and lined up outside the doors overflowed a capacity of approximately 4,000 while dozens stuck outside were forced to watch on HD screens.
That's not to say Knopfler is the type performer who makes it look easy. In fact, one of Knopfler's strengths is how the apparent effort of what he's aiming for translates through, if not flawless dynamics, pure inspiration. Despite considerable accolades and rare material rewards, Knopfler still faces challenges in being accepted as a traditional craftsman opposed to a star of more style than substance. Compositionally, Knopfler continues to prove himself as a historical novelist, often preferring projects closer to his heartfelt instincts than more profitable paths along the hit parade.
Knopfler's smooth skinned palate shined with intense, introspective expression when he bent into the strings, but he never seemed to be taking himself too seriously. Considering that he possesses one of the most distinct, trademark twangs in popular music, it says a lot that he doesn't seemed satisfied with "good enough."
Knopfler is quite under-stated on stage. His picturesque narratives are more a soft spoken word style than sung, delivered in low tones and usually with minimal movement. Tonight a chagrined Knopfler was confined to an office-type chair from an injury, but seemed more focused than hindered from a comfortable looking perch in front of his majestic, red Reinhardt dual amp set.
Yet there is nothing subtle about the enduring impact of Knopfler's songbook, from which he and a group of frequent collaborators tweaked a few bridges and folked-up some familiar anthems. As Knopfler alternated between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul, sometimes you heard the same note in a different galaxy.
The show began with shadowy overtures between flutist Michael McGoldrick and violinist John McCusker, who each got almost as much overall solo time as Knopfler but didn't act like wingmen gone wild. The pair also kept things grounded with touches of mandolin or wind instruments and were as basic to the beat as bassist Glenn Worf and drummer Danny Cummings. Keyboards were manned by Guy Fletcher and Matt Rollings. For the mutually experienced ensemble, it was all systems go.
As the audience settled back to submerge into Knopfler's deeply detailed landscape it quickly became obvious he remains one of the great storytellers in music, whether drawing upon whimsical characterizations or sculpting personalities and social commentary from rituals of the past. Knopfler can twist his six-string signals around the hall and around people's heads, holding some notes that seemingly float above others. Could such timing come from generally being left handed and playing from the right? Knopfler may have jump started a few frets at first but it added to the true texture of performance purity. Once again, the humanity factor at work.