At some point of a band’s career, the question of how to sustain the life of one’s music anthology will have to be asked, debated and acted on. After the ‘real’ Dire Straits were ‘awkwardly’ inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in April this year, the timing was perfect for former Dire Straits saxophone player, Chris White, to kick off another tour.
Although White was not one of the official band members to be inducted, he seemed quite contented to keep bringing the music of Dire Straits to the more seasoned and newer fans, across the world, with his ‘tribute’ band made up of world class musicians including one time actor, now singer songwriter Terence Reis (lead guitar and vocals). The other members of the music collective known as The Dire Straits Experience for the show in Auckland, New Zealand, included Tim Walters (guitar, vocals), Simon Carter and John Maul (keyboards), Paul Geary (bass) and Andrew Hawkins on drums.
The ASB Theatre in Aotea Centre seemed the perfect place for The Dire Straits Experience. While it is not suited for ‘moshing’ or dancing in other venues like Powerstation or the Logan Campbell Centre, the theatre was suited for a ‘sit-down-and-watch’ kind of experience. And that, I believe, is what Chris White and his band was hoping to achieve with an exceptional sound and lighting show that accompanied, complimented and at times even completed the well loved Straits songs in an almost 2 hour performance.
The demographic who came to enjoy a Dire Straits experience in Auckland was clearly skewed to the more senior. Despite this fact, there was still a fair share of wolf whistles, loud cheers and dancing especially towards the end of the night. Quiet and demure, this crowd was not. Sadly, the ever present issue of over drinking reared its ugly head again when an audience member, clearly under the influence, mounted onto the stage to ‘watch’ the band better during the old fashioned rock and roll number, Two Young Lovers. Security acted promptly and he unabashedly sauntered back to his seat.
But, I digress. The first song chosen to start the night’s ‘experience’ was Telegraph Road with White on flute nicely setting the stage for Reis to immediately overwhelm the audience with his ‘Mark Knopfler’ voice and guitar. The classics Walk of Life and Romeo and Juliet followed thereafter.
After the first few songs, I grew to appreciate Reis’ vocal delivery more. His voice was almost the same as the former Straits frontman but not quite. Yet it was charming because his dynamic range was enough to lend authenticity to Knopfler yet making each song his own. Reis is very conscious about the dangers of trying to mimic Knopfler’s style and the risk of falling into a parody of sorts. In a 2011 interview, after Reis sang with Dire Straits at The Royal Albert Hall in London, he talked about ‘honouring’ the music as opposed to ‘being’ a person in his reference to Mark Knopfler. A humble and admirable approach that has evidently won him massive acclaim worldwide.
On the other hand, I believe Reis truly outperformed my expectations not in voice but by his phenomenal mastery of the guitar, especially the 'Knopfler' guitar sound. Adopting the same ‘fingerpicking’ technique (and even a wrist sweat band!), Reis made each guitar sing and cry every note flawlessly. I lost count on how many actual guitars passed through Reis’ hands throughout the night but clearly it was necessary to match the distinctive sound in each well known Straits song.
White’s vast experience and dexterity with the saxophone is well known and earned him past collaborations with Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams and more outside Dire Straits. His mastery and use of the flute and saxophone elevated the Dire Straits ‘experience’ with mournful, pleading yet uplifting notes that filled the whole theatre effortlessly. Switching between soprano and alto saxophones, White laid down a different dimension to songs like Your Latest Trick, On Every Street and Private Investigations. Without the sax , these songs would feel barren and indistinguishable.
In contrast with the stage lighting that was beautifully choreographed with the mood and feel of each song, the visual appearance of the Dire Straits Experience was somewhat underwhelming. Some members of the band wore a jacket but most everyone was in jeans with shirts untucked, nothing chic or spectacular. But, do not let the lack of a flashy wardrobe fool you because each member quickly demonstrated an extraordinary talent that earned each one of them an accomplished musical career.
Tim Walters provided the crucial guitar accompaniment and backing vocals for each song. Like Reis, he faultlessly made the right notes howl, shrill and moan on his guitar. Walters’ respect and love for each song was evident in his beaming demeanour and his enjoyment on stage... dancing along with comical facial expressions he was known for.
Simon Carter introduced Tunnel of Love by playing an organ solo before he was joined by John Maul on piano. This build up to the main song itself was simply delightful and the audience erupted in loud whistles and shouts during Reis’ guitar solo and its smooth and velvety tones. This was only the fourth song in the setlist and some members were already giving standing ovations!
A special treat and highlight of the performance was a version of So Far Away that, according to White later in his address to the audience, was only performed during the 1986 Brothers In Arms tour. Reis started the reimagined song by picking the nylon strings of a classical guitar accompanied by a vibraphone melody. As the crowd boldly sang the chorus of this epic song, Paul Geary nicely jumps in with clear and succinct bass lines that allowed Reis to switch guitars and play the renowned and legendary riff of the song. Perfect coordination and control!
Perhaps the best song that showcased the simple yet highly effective stage lighting was Private Investigations. Different beams and patterns of lights blended and synchronised perfectly with the ebb and flow of the song… creating the mood for White’s saxophone and Reis’ guitar solos to invade the forgotten hallways of one's mind palace.
Throughout the night, the bass lines from Geary were on point. Andrew Hawkins, whom White introduced as the man in the bands’ 'engine room', effortlessly kept the beat going on drums. There were no elaborate drum solos or drumsticks in the air… merely a tight, unobtrusive but evocative beat that moved the night along marvellously.
Reis showed off his vocal prowess in Why Worry with only a guitar, piano and backing vocals from White and Walters. A slight change in the band setup saw Hawkins back on drums and Geary on bass before Reis led into one of my favourite Dire Straits songs, Where Do You Think You’re Going? and Once Upon a Time in the West. The absence of the keyboards gave these elaborate compositions a rougher, yet more compelling and irresistible charm.
The night would not be complete without the Dire Straits classics and the full band reconvened on stage to finish the show with On Every Street, Brothers in Arms and Sultans of Swing. White’s saxophone solo during On Every Street and his melancholy flute intro to Brothers In Arms was extremely moving, especially for anyone who grew up with these songs. The sublime notes had an uncanny way of dislodging many forgotten memories and experiences that had been locked or filed away.
The band masterfully built up the excitement of the audience during Sultans of Swing as they progressively increased the tempo, prompting the vast majority to dance and shake with vitality and vigour as fond and maybe tearful memories were let out into the open by the melodies that had become so integral in one’s past.
Chris White led the band back on stage expectedly for a final and hopefully, long lasting bit of ‘experience’ with an encore of Money for Nothing and Going Home.
Returning back to my opening thoughts about cover or tribute bands aimed to keep songs and back catalogues alive, The Dire Straits Experience showed me how important each note, chord, synth effect, solo coupled with harmony and balance delicately made up each of the well known Dire Straits song. While we will always need people to sing and play, it is the little details in each song that make the experience live forever.
More highlights of the show can be found in the photograph gallery further below.
The Dire Straits Experience setlist
Walk of Life
Romeo and Juliet
Tunnel of Love
Your Latest Trick
The Man’s Too Strong
So Far Away
Where Do You Think You’re Going?
Once Upon a Time in the West
Two Young Lovers
On Every Street
Brothers in Arms
Sultans of Swing
Money for Nothing