The return of Dire Straits Mark Knopfler is back in the rock band business


MARK KNOPFLER'S twin sons saw their first Dire Straits concert the other night.

The 4-year-olds went to Phoenix to see their dad lead his group through its rock 'n' roll paces. They sat at the sound desk in the middle of the arena and had "a whale of a time," according to the proud papa.

Good fun, to be sure, but Mr. Knopfler knew better than to get big-headed about it.

"I think they're a bit more into Hulk Hogan at the moment than they are into me," he says in a dry British accent. "I hope that's not permanent."

Mr. Knopfler, 42, knows something about being larger than life. After all, that's what Dire Straits was in 1986, with its hugely successful album, "Brothers in Arms," and a marathon world tour. Yet, despite that success, the group disappeared for the next five years. Now it's back with a new album and tour -- and, according to Mr. Knopfler, an altered approach to making music that came from his time spent away from the band.

The tour comes to the Capital Centre at 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $22.50. Call (410) 792-7490 for information, (410) 481-SEAT for tickets.

There's no doubt that Dire Straits' initial success was richly deserved. Since emerging in 1978 with the rolling hit "Sultans of Swing," Mr. Knopfler and Dire Straits (bassist John Illsley is the only other remnant from the original lineup) produced a body of work that was captivating with its sweep and breadth. What made it more attractive was that it came during the throes of the punk rock movement, which ran counter to such values.

Steeped in country, blues and early rock 'n' roll, Mr. Knopfler's music spanned epic-length guitar odysseys, punchy rockers, ideological political statements and elegant romantic tomes.

And the combination clicked with the public. "Brothers in Arms," which spawned some massive hit singles ("Money for Nothing," "Walk of Life") and witty, innovative videos, sold some 20 million copies worldwide.

Playing more than 250 shows in some of the world's largest stadiums, Dire Straits was hailed as the biggest band in the world. And Mr. Knopfler cut a physical image -- bandana tied around his forehead and guitar slung across his abdomen -- that became a rock 'n' roll cliche.

Though his work had serious artistic intent, Mr. Knopfler, a former rock critic and literature teacher, never lost his sense of humor. His biggest hit re-creates a department store worker's lament that rock stars get their "money for nothing and chicks for free."

But musical values tend to lapse into soft focus when commercial success reaches the level that Dire Straits experienced in 1985-86. And by the time the group wrapped up its tour, Mr. Knopfler acknowledges, "things had kind of run their course."

"It was great for what it was," he says. "You have to come to terms with the size of it and the scale of it. You accept that that's what it is. If you start thinking about it too much, it takes away from what you're doing. The fact that it's the biggest gets in the way. The focus isn't on what you're doing, but how big it is.

"I like it better now. Last night, we sat around for two hours just talking about music. It's a band that basically talks about music. That's what we enjoy. And that's the way it should be."

Mr. Knopfler's adventures -- excellent and otherwise -- are part of "On Every Street," Dire Straits' long awaited follow-up to "Brothers in Arms" (a greatest hits album was released during the interim).

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