Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Thursday, June

Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks

Knopfler_Harris.jpgFrom Iron & Wine’s melodious
marriage with Calexico to Nick Cave’s curious flirtation with Kylie
Minogue, contemporary collaboration embraces both the logical and
the bizarre. So when word got out that Mark Knopfler and Emmylou
Harris had been secretly fusing their musical skills — a
partnership that gave birth to last month’s All the
— ears naturally perked up. And in front of a near
capacity Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday night, their dueling
dynamics certainly showed.

With a lack of fanfare and pretense, Emmylou Harris, Mark
Knopfler, and the usual members of his musical supporting cast
ambled onto center stage. By the time the ensemble had launched
into the fiery “Red Staggerwing,” the stage was blazing brighter
than the sunset sky. The zealous lyrical exchange of two cavorting
lovers had hints of Johnny and June, but the tempo relaxed when
Harris’s refined acoustics signaled the arrival of her splendid
ballad “Michelangelo.”

Throughout the evening, the musical direction
shifted freely between songs off their recorded partnership and
offerings from their respective back catalogues. Harris presented
moving renditions of introspective gems like “Red Dirt Girl” and
“Boulder to Birmingham” while Knopfler served up the blues-drenched
“Song for Sonny Liston” and “All That Matters.” But while these
were enthusiastically received, it was Knopfler’s laconic vocals
and the twanging strings from his National steel guitar that
perpetuated the beautiful melody of the Dire Straits classic “Romeo
and Juliet,” which brought the crowd to its feet.

If that song hinted at what the assembled were craving, then the
encore undoubtedly confirmed it. As a swirl of synthesizers pierced
through the smoke that blanketed the stage, the audience rose to
their feet. Hands clapped, pelvises twisted, and voices joined with
Knopfler as he led us led through one of popular music’s seminal
moments “So Far Away.” If someone told me 20 years ago at a Dire
Straits concert that Knopfler would one day perform that song with
Emmylou Harris, I would’ve gasped in disbelief. But there was
Harris, bouncing and beaming and complementing Knopfler’s
understated vocals with her own angelic accompaniment. While
foresight might have deemed such a union improbable, hindsight
declares it providence.


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