Pop: Mark Knopfler

Royal Albert Hall, London
Rating: ***

Mark Knopfler's name is rarely mentioned when Those Who Do Not Compromise are discussed. Yet he has turned his discomfort with the notion of celebrity and the monster that Dire Straits became to his advantage. Having no truck with marketing, fashion - dressed in dark shirt and jeans, he has the air of a bewildered delivery driver - or any of the fripperies that stardom brings, this anti popstar can march to nobody's beat but his own. Right now, his condign reward is a successful album, Sailing to Philadelphia, and three sold-out nights at this prestigious London venue.

This reverse charisma works well on record, where Knopfler's pub-rock tendencies are restrained and where his underrated voice - warm, yet overflowing with ennui - is allowed to shine. The stage, however, is a pernicious medium for the quieter man.

For someone who does little on stage except play and be friendly between lengthy songs, it's a peculiarly extreme evening. The six-piece band is well-drilled and first hour is strong. Knopfler is such an understated guitarist, playing his solos without grimacing or the aid of lighting pyrotechnics, that you forget how good he is and just how many of the things he's slipping in.

Calling Elvis almost segues into On Broadway; Walk of Life is a jolly knees-up (although nobody dances); What It Is confirms that the muse is still extant and that, for all his £60m fortune, Knopfler remains an astute chronicler of working-class life. The "when we made love you used to cry" line in Romeo and Juliet is worthy of Ian Curtis. How on earth did this man become so naff?

Then there is the droopiest of mid-set dips. Done With Bonaparte is muso self-indulgence, while the ghastly Junkie Doll, the poorest song on the new album, is the sound of a man insulting his own intelligence.

The exquisite, Steinbeck-esque Prairie Wedding begins the revival. Telegraph Road seals it, and even the crowd shakes a leg to So Far Away and a reconstructed Money for Nothing.

Fine. Apart from the hole in the middle.

• Mark Knopfler plays the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020-7589 8212), tonight.


John Aizlewood

The GuardianTramp

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