Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits strengthened his claim as rock 'n' roll's best guitarist of the '80s Saturday night at George Washington University's Smith Center. Knopfler showed off techniques that were already stronger and more daring than his playing on Dire Straits' first two albums and on Bob Dylan's latest.

Knopfler has borrowed tastefully from the guitar styles of J. J. Cale, Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton. But Knopfler's style has taken on its own peculiar accents by now. His left hand bent and squeezed the strings, giving each note an expressive inflection. His unusually strong right hand popped notes, sustained tones or simultaneously picked and strummed.

Knopfler began the show with an eerily eloquent slection of echoed tape loops, synthesized noise and improvised guitar. On "Lady Writer," he reeled off fast triplets and improvised phrases that had a composed quality. On "News," he began with understated folk-song arpeggios before moving into rich, sustained blues notes. The show climaxed with long but consistently inventive solos on "Angel of Mercy" and "Sultans of Swing."

On record, Knopfler's lyrics are full of stylish image. But on stage Saturday, his guttural delivery of his cockney version of a Southern drawl obscured the words.