Maybe there’s an unwritten rule somewhere: Every time Mark Knopfler plays Red Butte Amphitheater it has to rain and be cold.
That’s what happened last time, and, sure enough, it happened again when Knopfler returned to the garden Wednesday night. Maybe Mother Nature thinks it will make the Scottish-born songwriter feel more at home.
Regardless, after a steady downpour most of the morning, the grass was soppy and the temperature dipped down as low as 50 on the chilly evening.
“It’s so cold, with the wind coming in. We just sent for some heaters,” said the former Dire Straits frontman, who shoved his hands under his armpits to keep them warm between songs. My fingers were going numb. I have no idea how he managed to play guitar.
But he played, and his guitar work sounded as pristine as ever, not over-the-top like some heralded young phenoms, but clean and crisp. Knopfler and his band, bringing the total on stage to 11, has been touring relentlessly for approaching a year and they were tight and polished, each piece fitting together like a puzzle.
The Celtic influences were front-and-center early, as they opened the night with 2002’s “Why Aye Man,” following it up with a rocking rendition of “Ain’t Too Pretty.”
Knopfler was at his best as the mournful balladeer, on pieces like “Sailing to Philadelphia,” “Once Upon A Time In the West,” (a vintage Dire Straits track), and a version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which packed a special punch being performed live.
Midway through the set, he told the story of being a young man, joining his first band and hitchhiking 500 miles in a Christmas Day snow. The vignette — which Knopfler joked only took him 50 years to write — provided the basis for the lovely song, “Matchstick Man,” from his most recent album, “Down the Road Wherever.”
Knopfler is a master songwriter and story-teller, but there were times where the arrangements felt stodgy and dated, drifting from the Celtic origins and into the realm of easy listening smooth jazz.
Knopfler and company finished the night with an encore featuring his best-known song, “Money For Nothing,” and followed it with a second curtain call, capping the night with an instrumental number, “Going Home.”
The audience went away chilled but pleased, a few wondering if he would be back in Salt Lake again. If he is, hopefully it won’t rain.