Mark Knopfler is an accomplished guitarist, with a very distinctive sound. These days, he has an extraordinarily tight band and a repertoire which draws more on blues and folk than the pop which brought him fame and fortune with Dire Straits. It’s good stuff. But this is not why I stood in line for an hour, raced into the Hammersmith Apollo with barely a glance at the loos, the bar and the T-shirt vendors; this is not why I’ve spent an hour and a half taking one step forward, two steps back, and then one giant leap to the very front of the stage; and this is not why I am now standing so close to Knopfler that I could touch him.
I’m waiting for the man.
Jill has retired from Bob. She wants to remember him as she saw him in Carcassonne, his shadow cast on the walls of the cité, a song and dance man on the top of his form under a nightfall of diamonds in south-western France. I respect that decision, although I disagree with it. The compensation of course is that I no longer have to negotiate for seats which will provide Jill with an unobstructed view and can, as I did last evening, stand as close as I can get.
Sunday at the Apollo was the penultimate show of this European leg of the never-ending tour. But it felt as if it was the very first show for years, that Bob is “one who has been long in city pent”, desperate to break out. From the first chord, the opening lines, of Pill-Box Hat, Bob was in fine form, the voice powerful, the movements theatrical and dramatic, the engagement with fellow-musicians and audience total.
From Pill-Box Hat into Baby Blue, and Bob moved centre stage with electric guitar. This is amazing: just a yard in front of me are – left to right – Charlie Sexton, Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler, trading licks. And they are loving it as much as I am.
If you want the set list, it’s on BobLinks. He didn’t do Mississippi, which I was hoping for, but I did get Tangled up in Blue, Blind Willie McTell (my first), Desolation Row and Ballad of a Thin Man. And I did get to see and hear the version of All Along the Watchtower which provoked the discussion about Dylan erasing his old songs in the manner of Rauschenberg erasing a De Kooning drawing (see my blog on 04-08-2011).
It’s an attractive (at least to me) conceit but I can now tell you that it is, in fact, only a partial erasure. What Bob has done is stripped away all extraneous material, reducing the song to its very essence. It is clearly the same song, however, closer to the original of John Wesley Harding than to the subsequent Hendrix-influenced performances. It is extremely powerful, even if it does deprive Charlie Sexton of the opportunity for some virtuoso playing.
Still, my daughters will be delighted to hear that Charlie had many moments throughout the evening when he was allowed – even encouraged – by Bob to let loose. And he did.
So did Bob. So did the band. And so did I.
PS. Respect to the road crews for both bands: a 15-minute turn-round!
Today’s listening: last night’s show, in my head, over and over.