Guitar hero Mark Knopfler offers up a musical masterclass

Mark Knopfler ****PlayhouseGUITAR GEORGE might know all the chords, but it took Mark Knopfler to play them the way they should be last night at the Playhouse.

An almost capacity audience sat in the palm of his hand for most of the gig, enthralled by what was quite simply a display of effortless master musicianship by the former Dire Straits frontman.

Beneath an impressive array of moving lights and shining rigging, Knopfler looked every bit the rock legend he's become, although his material has gone way beyond any simple pigeonhole. Elements of country, Celtic, pop and blues weave their way through his songs, bound together by his signature sound of burning, finger-picked guitar playing.

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Multi-instrumentalist and Knopfler stalwart, Richard Bennett began the show with a few gently strummed chords while the rest of the band got into place. Greeted with an enormous cheer, Knopfler strode onstage, shielding his eyes as he peered into the crowd and waving, then launched into Cannibals from his first post-Dire Straits album.

In something of a tribute to his home town of Newcastle, the guitarist moved swiftly on to Why Aye, Man, the arrangement of which heavily showcased Scottish fiddler John McCusker. At one point it looked like Knopfler's guitar was having a wee blether with the fiddle and the expertly wielded accordion of Matt Rollings.

Recalling the origins of the next song in an Edinburgh hotel, Knopfler introduced his ode to the capital, What It Is, complete with vivid imagery of the city and a mention for a lone piper on the parapet of the castle. Taking the travelogue a little further afield, 2000's Sailing To Philadelphia was next, illustrating what an inordinately delicate player the guitarist is.

Even someone unmoved by the songs or unimpressed by the success he's enjoyed with or without his former band mates must at least acknowledge his control and technique, together with his melodic inventiveness and versatility. Knopfler has been nothing if not diverse.

True Love Will Never Fade, the first of three songs from his newest release received warm applause, while the second, The Fish And The Bird seemed to have more sway with the crowd. Having satisfied himself with a couple of brand new tracks, he then treated the audience to something a little older.

Following a quiet musical introduction, the first few notes from the famous metal "Dobro" guitar drew wild applause and cheers as the crowd almost instantly recognised Romeo And Juliet. Knopfler himself has said in the recent past that his current band plays Dire Straits better than Dire Straits did. Certainly, this arrangement of the song seemed to be the most heartfelt, personal performance yet, and was definitely the most impressive.

Sultans Of Swing naturally got another excited roar of approval from the audience, but it also served to highlight one of the few problems the show had. Despite the fact that the band shrunk from seven players to four for the song, Knopfler's voice seemed to get swamped and became indistinct. Of course, the crowd partly made up for it by singing along, but it's a shame that the otherwise pristine sound was a little inconsistent, particularly on the vocals.

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An outstanding Brothers In Arms led the encores to what was by now, a standing audience, and they wouldn't let the singer leave until they had played a further three songs, finishing with perennial favourite, Local Hero. While he's almost a local, to this audience he was at least easily the other half of that title.

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