After the Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris concert at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley (the final concert on their tour), J and I were comparing notes and I said “You know, I sure miss Dire Straits.” Why? Because the highpoint for me was when Knopfler sang “Romeo and Juliet.” Knopfler’s singing conjured up such a sense of sadness and lost love that I was getting a little verklempt as the song was riding out with Knopfler doing his great solo on the guitar. After the song ended, I wanted more songs from his Dire Straits era. Instead we got “Song for Sonny Liston” from Shangri-La. Not really the emotional punch I wanted (and I supposed there is a pun intended since the song is about a boxer), but it stayed about that tempo for the rest of the night. And what tempo what that? A very low-key one that really didn’t tap the potential of the band or Knopfler’s abilities.
Despite my love for music, I know almost nothing about Emmylou Harris. I went in with an open mind about seeing someone whose music credits are amazingly long, but came away feeling a bit guilty for not liking what I heard. Her voice has a very shrill and somewhat nasal quality to it, and it kind of reminded me of Stevie Nicks’ singing these days. Her songs were okay, but a little too depressing for my taste. However, there was one song that connected with me, and that was “Red Dirt Girl.” A very sad song about a girl named Lillian whose life really went down the crapper. But the lyrics are really quite powerful:
“But one thing they don’t tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain’t no bottom
There ain’t know end.
At least not for Lillian
Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only 27 and she had five kids.
Coulda’ been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won’t be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.”
I should be a little more forgiving about Emmylou Harris, because Knopfler’s music has a depressing quality to it as well. However, when he sings, his voice has such a low, gravel tone that it’s much more powerful than Harris — too me, anyway. Knopfler’s current musical style really moves away from this rock roots toward what can be called “Americana” with British folk flourishes. His music has trended that way even when he was with Dire Straits, but once the rock underbelly was dropped (i.e., Dire Straits broke up), all that was left was (and is) a very laconic folksy musical form that makes me think he’s either holding back, or his ability to craft powerful songs is waning.
There were moments — brief moments — when Knopfler could really move the crowd. “Speedway at Nazareth” closed the first part of the show, and it’s just a great song that builds in intensity. The crowd could feel it (and so could the players) and it seemed the show was going to move into a direction that rocked a bit more. But no. It was over, and all that was left were two encores that went straight back to sleepy style of music that characterized the bulk of the show. He did play “So Far Away” and “Why Worry” from Brothers in Arms, but even Harris seemed to lose the energetic vibe ’cause she forgot some of the lyrics and started to laugh at her mistake during the show’s closing number. Knopfler prompted her with the next lyric, and then she locked in and finished out the song. And then, that was it. The tour came to a close, the audience was very happy with the experience, and many folks were just beaming as they left the theatre. I was happy, too! But also a little sad to see such talent being held back by some song choices that were less than inspiring.
J and I are doing “He said, she said” reviews. So, now that you’ve come this far, check out her comments HERE!
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris’ set list:
“I Dug Up a Diamond”
“Born To Run”
“Red Dirt Girl”
“Done With Bonaparte”
“Romeo and Juliet”
“Song for Sonny Liston”
“This Is Us”
“Boulder in Birmingham”
“All the Roadrunning”
“Speedway at Nazareth”
“So Far Away”
“If This Is Goodbye”