Of all the musicians championed in the early days of MTV, Mark Knopfler has made the most graceful transition into the VH1 demographic: “Money for Nothing,” Dire Straits’ best-known video, starred a pair of computer-animated moving men, and although he sported an unfortunate headband for a few years, Knopfler never had a silly Flock of Seagulls haircut to live down. Plus, Dire Straits’ low-key take on American roots music can be heard as a precursor to the Adult Album Alternative sound.
At the Greek Theater Sunday night, the amiable singer-guitarist (whose voice has grown raspier and more Dylanesque over the years) delivered a generous two-hour set that covered his entire career but focused on his inimitable guitar playing.
Warm and round with a little bit of fuzz on the edges, his tone is one of the most identifiable in rock. With hammer-ons and pull-offs that tease the ear like the bubbles of champagne tease the nose, Knopfler’s bandied solos seem to effortlessly slide off his fingers, whether playing electric, acoustic or National steel guitars.
With two guitars and two keyboards supporting him at the concert, the arrangements were plush without turning oleogelatinous.
He has amassed a fine group of musicians, and he gives them plenty of room to stretch out, as he did this night. But they are clearly more effective when they have a groove to chew on, whether it’s the zydeco two-step of “Walk of Life,” the chunky rock of “Money for Nothing” or the smoldering “Junkie Doll” (off his new Warner Bros. disc “Sailing to Philadelphia”), which toggles between greasy blues and a chorus that resembles Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
The split even affected the show’s guest appearances. Bonnie Raitt was so effective on Gillian Welsh’s part on “Speedway at Nazareth” that Knopfler invited her to remain onstage, encouraging her to extend her solo on an new, unreleased number. But not even the presence of Jackson Browne (filling in for James Taylor) could bring the watery “Sailing to Philadelphia” into focus.