Mark Knopfler, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
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Mark Knopfler is perhaps the longest-running example of a musician who does what he does and fashion be damned. Punk passed him by in the 1970s, acid house made no impression in the 1980s, and he has serenely ignored every subsequent pop trend to arrive at middle age unscathed, and still selling records. The last, Sailing to Philadelphia, managed 3.5m, confirming the eternal popularity of the accomplished but dull singer-guitarist. At 52 he looks and sounds, give or take a bit of hair, exactly as he did when Dire Straits were racking up hit after enervated hit. It's not inappropriate that he is the only rock star to have had a dinosaur named after him.

The lack of tout action outside the Empire, where he played the first of four charity shows, was emblematic of his status as sedate guitar admiral. Touts would be superfluous, since Knopfler fans don't roll up without tickets. They plan ahead, to the point of bringing digital camcorders - pointlessly, as there was nothing much to film but a silver-haired figure lackadaisically picking out blues figures.

During the first half he was backed by occasional sidemen the Notting Hillbillies, though "sidemen" is inaccurate here given that guitarists Brendan Croker and Steve Phillips often took lead vocals, leaving Knopfler to absently construct a country-blues soundbed. Drifting from Dire Straits hits - a sleepy, sultry Calling Elvis rated highly despite its aural Valium properties - to blues standards gargled by the aptly named Croker, here was pub rock from the swirly carpet era. The feeling of riffling through the archives was amplified by the assortment of moustaches and berets on display, which drowned out the sole note of glamour offered by Clark Gable-lookalike violinist Bobby Valentino.

Most of Dire Straits joined Knopfler for a canter through their catalogue in the second hour. You had mixed feelings about these versions of Romeo and Juliet, Sultans of Swing and Your Latest Trick. A vague sense of pleasure instilled by having been force-fed them in the 1980s battled with boredom as Knopfler stretched them into epics. His lachrymose mumble had a soporific effect, but anyone who talked in an effort to stay awake found themselves angrily shushed. Even guest Jimmy Nail, who sang Knopfler's theme for the new series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet, was uncharacteristically subdued - or maybe he, too, was just sleepy.

· At Shepherd's Bush Empire, London W12, tomorrow, and Beaulieu Palace, Hampshire, on Sunday. Tickets: 020-7771 2000.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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