Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisThree years ago when Mark Knopfler released his roots rock record "The Ragpicker's Dream," he mounted a worldwide tour as a promotion tool. However, the one time Dire Straits front man found himself in the headlines for another reason, a tragic motorcycle crash during which he broke seven ribs and an extremely sensitive collarbone. It was certainly a shame, not just for his health's sake, but because the signer/songwriter was still riding high off the momentum from 2000's "Sailing to Philadelphia" comeback disc (which included superb collaborations with Van Morrison and James Taylor). Despite being forced to cancel those dates, Knopfler didn't waste time throughout the painstaking recovery, but instead focused on his fine 2004 album "Shangri-La." The break made Milwaukee area fans' all the more ready, which come the guitar players' riveting two-hour set, was well worth everyone's prior patience.
Like fellow band superstars gone solo, Knopfler's set list was split between his recent offerings and 1970s/80s heyday with Dire Straits, both of which were interspersed evenly to maintain attendees' interest. Of course, anything uttered from his previous group earned the most rapturous response, and even without the other players, the leader could still deliver. He pulled out two monster smashes towards the beginning ("Walk of Life" and "Romeo and Juliet") that immediately showed off his guitar soloing capabilities and the might of a five piece backing band. Others followed as the night progressed, like the obligatory trio "Money For Nothing," "Sultans of Swing" and "So Far Away." Even though each were performed a thousand times before, Knopfler made sure not to turn in rote or drowsy renditions, switching up his notes and vocal interpretations with slyness and sincere enjoyment.
Of course, he was probably even more proud to showcase the new CD, which despite not earning as much of a commercial presence as before still had hit potential. "Boom, Like That" was an incredibly catchy adult contemporary pop pleaser, while "Song For Sonny Liston" scooted with his precise picking. Perhaps more privy to the "Ragpicker's" cause was the jangly bop of "Why Aye Man,'' a key track from the last project. "Sailing to Philadelphia" was one of the show's more serene moments and marked the only interpretation lacking noticeable zest, yet "What It Is" from the same era stormed the stage with raging certainly. All in all there was plenty to be pleased about at the Milwaukee Theatre and several reasons to want Knopfler (and his engaging, folk flavored opener from Belfast Bap Kennedy) back in town for more. Though that might not happen anytime soon (considering he doesn't tour all that often) this "Sultan of Swing" will be welcome back anytime to "Shangri-La" for his supporters.
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