Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

23Apr/10135

Setlist: Mark Knopfler – The Fabulous Fox Theatre – St. Louis – 4/22/10

The Fabulous Fox Theatre is a St. Louis venue that brings no hype with its name - it really is fabulous, and on the level of some of the most beautiful venues I've had the pleasure of visiting through the years.  Attending a concert at the Fox is a majestic experience, on par for me personally with the times that I've been to shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York - just a beautiful old venue with acoustics that are perfectly suited for live music.

The Fox was built in the 20's by William Fox as a forum to screen the films of the Fox Film Corporation, and to provide a venue for elaborate stage productions.  It was one of a total of five Fox Theatres built in the 20's (the Atlanta location is one of the most famous of the five), and at the time, it was the second largest theater in the United States with a capacity of 5,060.  After closing in the late 70's, The Fox later was fully restored at an estimated cost of at least 3 million dollars, and eventually reopened in 1982.

Rock music gurus will recognize the Fox as the location for St. Louis native Chuck Berry's 60th birthday concert, captured in the concert film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n Roll.  If these walls could talk, you can bet that they'd tell some bitchin' stories.

So when Mark Knopfler announced a set of 2010 tour dates to promote his latest album Get Lucky, I knew that The Fox would be the primo venue to experience an evening of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits favorites.   It's been nearly two years since I last saw Knopfler at the Fraze Pavilion in Dayton, OH, on the Kill To Get Crimson tour.  Knopfler is one of those guys that each time that I get lucky enough to see him, I'm never sure if it will be the last time.  With a guy like Knopfler, you never know when he might decide that it's time to go riding off into the sunset.  Setlist wise, he never really rocks the boat with unexpected choices (although the inclusion of "Prairie Wedding" from Sailing to Philadelphia in tonight's setlist was one of several surprises in tonight's set), but although Knopfler/DS fans might grumble about the lack of variety in selections from the Dire Straits catalog, I'll never pass on the opportunity to see "Telegraph Road" live.

For an age-challenged guy like me that missed seeing Dire Straits back in the day, missed Knopfler touring with Clapton, etc.; the Dire Straits nuggets that we do get are quite nice.  Knopfler himself sounded a bit vocally worn down the last time that I saw him, so I was hoping that perhaps it might have been an off-night.  And I was rewarded, handsomely for rolling the dice on Knopfler one more time, as the grit and fire I normally expect from his vocals, absent on that previous night in Dayton, came back around (although he was still occasionally a bit rough in small patches throughout the setlist, including the opening moments of "Romeo & Juliet").  Several songs into the set, Knopfler noted that it had been quite a while since his last appearance in St. Louis, and he certainly made it worth the wait for everyone in attendance at the Fox.

I'm always curious to know how many casual music fans show up at a Mark Knopfler show, expecting a night of Dire Straits and nothing but.  Each time, I'm surprised at how engaged and respectful the audiences are, greeting each new song, whether it is solo or a Dire Straits favorite, as if they are all classics.  Credit Knopfler for knowing how to construct a well-paced setlist, populated with songs like "What It Is" and "Sailing to Philadelphia" that could have easily come out under the Dire Straits name.

It all comes down to the players, and the music - much like his contemporaries, you can always count on Mark Knopfler to bring a band that's completely ace (including former Dire Straits mates Guy Fletcher and percussionist/drummer Danny Cummings), full of several players playing nearly any instrument they can get their hands on.  The bulk of Knopfler's band, nicknamed "The 96ers,"  came together during the recording sessions for Golden Heart, and Knopfler himself has said that the band plays Dire Straits songs better than Dire Straits themselves played the material.  These guys kill with a sonic precision on-stage which never gets old for me to watch, and I'm always in full-on musical geek out mode watching these guys play.  In the case of Tim O'Brien, Knopfler notes that they have to "carry a small U-Haul" for all of his instruments (and for those that are curious, you can eyeball bits and pieces of O'Brien's arsenal via his website, which features a different instrument from his collection on each page).  O'Brien really shines on a duet version of "Sailing to Philadelphia," stepping up to sing the second lead vocal with Mark, a part originally sung by James Taylor on the album of the same name.  The duet is one of several setlist surprises on this current tour, and what a nice surprise it was, indeed.

At 60, Knopfler still has the ability to dazzle with his inimitable guitar playing - he's not the speediest player that you'll see, but his tone, acoustic or electric (as Roy Kasten notes in this week's issue of the Riverfront Times) is unmistakable, and infinitely enjoyable.  Knopfler often does quite a lot with very few notes, and if you've heard his past few solo albums, you might be worried about a potentially sleepy evening of music, but the current tour setlist actually rocks pretty consistently through the night.  Just wait until you hear the death metal version of "Romeo & Juliet" that Knopfler is performing on this tour.  Okay, I'm kidding about the "Romeo & Juliet" part.  The new material from Get Lucky fits nicely into the setlist, and "Piper to the End," in particular was absolutely beautiful, and made for a perfect song to wrap up the set, which clocked in at just under two hours and ten minutes.  I was a tad bummed that "Our Shangri-La" didn't float into the STL setlist (it's been in the encores on a fairly regular basis throughout the tour), but I couldn't really complain - it was a wonderful night of music.

Singer-songwriter Pieta Brown is the opening act for Mark's tour, and she played a short acoustic set, backed by guitarist/producer Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams, Ani Difranco, etc.) that reminded me a lot vocally of Kathleen Edwards.  One and All is the title of Brown's new album, released earlier this month on Red House Records and produced by Don Was.  I was very impressed by Brown's set - she's definitely worth showing up early to see.

Knopfler's U.S. tour runs through May 9th, followed by additional tour dates in the UK - Knopfler's tour is one not to be missed if it comes to your market (Ann Arbor, MI, I'm looking at you!).

Here's the setlist from last night's show:

Border Reiver
Why Aye Man
What It Is
Sailing to Philadelphia
Cleaning My Gun
Prairie Wedding
Hill Farmer's Blues
Romeo & Juliet
Sultans of Swing
Donegan's Gone

band intros

Marbletown
Speedway at Nazareth
Telegraph Road

Encore:

Brothers in Arms
So Far Away
Piper To The End

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