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  • Gig Review: Come Together: Dire Straits @ Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland - 10/06/2023

Gig Review: Come Together: Dire Straits @ Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland - 10/06/2023

11 Jun 2023 // A review by Roger Bowie

Come Together came together last night at the Kiri Te Kanawa theatre with another tribute to Dire Straits. What, again? Are they running out of albums? Can we stand two nights of Dire Straits (Come Together celebrated Brothers in Arms back in November 2020)?

Of course we can. 

Dire Straits released their third album in 1980. It was called Making Movies and was recorded in New York with Jimmy Iovine. 7 songs, longer songs than usual, and a break-up between the brothers, no longer in arms. David Knopfler left the band early in the recording stage and disappeared from view. Mark Knopfler reigned supreme, making movie soundscapes which permeate the annals of time and timeless music. 

Dire Straits emerged in the late seventies with origins in a pub rock band called Brewers Droop and then they became the Café Racers. I remember 1979 in Bahrain, when their debut album became the album of the year in our little community, an early sign of the burgeoning Aussie Rock trend. Except these guys weren’t Australian, they were from the last place they sounded like they were from, first Newcastle, then South London, of all places. That album, self-titled, is still in my view their best, but the following series of releases were still bloody good, and of course Brothers in Arms in 1985 broke all the records’ records. But only because of Sultans of Swing.

There are 11 Sultans on stage tonight at various times (but no Sultanas). Feudal lords of sound and voice, New Zealand’s rock royalty, who have made this format their own, plying their unambiguous talents to recreate the greatest albums of our time, the soundtracks of our youth. Under the masterful oversight of Jol Mulholland, here they are again, Brett Adams on guitar, Matthias Jordan on keys and piano, Finn Scholes on keys and trumpet, Mike Hall on bass, Michael Barker and Alistair Deverick swapping out on drums and percussion, and Nick Atkinson cameoing on saxophone. Masquerading as Mark Knopfler are Jon Toogood, Milan Borich and a new Sehzade (Prince) in Arahi, a young man from Hawkes Bay who is making his own moves, both as a solo performer and in collaboration with Jazmine Mary. Royalty indeed.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel Waltz wafts gently over us and we enter the Tunnel of Love with Jon swinging his recently long hair like a genie prophet, and off we go, a frantic run through the album before, yes, we know it, a selection of greatest hits, typically a democratic process of band choices before Jol makes a rule.

Jon Toogood has found a new voice and a new home in Auckland, and it’s all about ageing disgracefully but respectfully in homage to past legends. Arahi makes his debut early with the classic Romeo & Juliet, and, although he is perhaps not as assertive as he could be, there’s no denying the quality of voice. He’s where Jon was 30 years ago. Milan Borich comes in for perhaps the weakest of this album’s songs, Hand in Hand but that’s not his fault, and then he’s back in leather and abs, for the gloriously camp Les Boys,  an odd song in the album’s thematic content, about a band of gay leathery cabaret dancers dressed in almost Nazi style, but this is homage, not homophobia, and remember the context of the times: homosexuality in New Zealand wasn’t decriminalised until 1986. A touch of cabaret to end the album, which in today’s rendition totally eclipses the original. These kiwi guys are just too good…….

The band continue with three songs before the break, and the musicians step up to the mic, first Jol, then Mike, and then Brett, reminiscing about seeing Dire Straits at Western Springs in 1981, and buying their albums as a schoolboy, and now singing Once Upon a Time in the West which is obviously inspired by our own Westie culture (or maybe not).

Brett Adams is New Zealand’s finest guitarist. I know that because all the other guitarists tell me so. Most guitarists of international note have their own sound, their own signature. But Brett on the fret can forge any signature and make it his own, and tonight we get Mark Knopfler plus. Jol Mulholland is no slug either, as we hear later on Brothers in Arms. Together they weave magic, as do another pair, drummer /percussionists Alastair Deverick and Michael Barker, playing and paying each other in mutual homage and respect and swapping places seamlessly.

Another pair pierce the air with woodwind and brass, Finn Scholes on trumpet triumphantly baying like an elephant on Les Boys and joined by Nick Atkinson on saxophone on several occasions and solo on Your Latest Trick as well as the finale.

Dire Straits were never a boogie band, but they could rock amongst all the other Americana (before the term was invented) influences which drove the brilliant Mark Knopfler. Take Private Investigations which opens the second set, sounding at first like a film noir soundtrack with whispered Milan vocals before Spanish acoustic is ruptured by staccato guitar before building (as per the live version and as per tonight) but not quite erupting. Well, it does on the next song, forever my favourite, but I’ve said that already. 

The point is, Dire Straits defy not only South London logic, but any other genre logic before we were blessed with the broad church of Americana 20 years later. The funky, swampy Water of Love didn’t come off a tube ride to Streatham, so where did it come from? The deep in the dungeon seedy bar where you are looking for Your Latest Trick could be anywhere but most likely New York or Orleans. And Telegraph Road is in Detroit. 

No wonder we scratched our heads in 1979. No wonder Sultans of Swing topped the charts in Australia and made huge waves in America before the British woke up.

No matter. That was then and this is now, and how lucky we are to see a super version of Dire Straits come together and blow us all away with their brilliance.

My cousin and her partner came up from Invercargill to see this show. She thinks it was fucking awesome.

I think she's right.

Set List 

1. Tunnel of Love (Jon Toogood on lead vocals)

2. Romeo & Juliet (Arahi on lead vocals)

3. Skateaway (Arahi)

4. Expresso Love (Jon)

5. Hand in Hand (Milan Borich on lead vocals)

6. Solid Rock (Jon)

7. Les Boys (Milan)

8. Wild West End (Jol Mulholland on lead vocals)

9. Lady Writer (Mike Hall on lead vocals)

10. Once Upon A Time In The West (Brett Adams on lead vocals) 

11. Private Investigations (Milan)

12. Sultans of Swing (Jon)

13. Water of Love (Milan)

14. The Man’s Too Strong (Jon)

15. Your Latest Trick (Arahi)

16. Down to the Waterline (Arahi)

17. So Far Away From Me (Milan)

18. Brothers in Arms (Milan)

19. Telegraph Road (Arahi)

20. Money for Nothing (Jon/Matthias Jordan)

21. Local Hero (Nick Atkinson on sax)

Photo Credit: Chris Zwaagdyk / Zed Pics
View the full gallery here


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