Released in 1995 as a contractual obligation album (the band officially disbanded that year), this captures Dire Straits at the BBC in 1978 (and 1981, see below).
All I really need to do, here, is list the eight tracks. You’ll see what kind of glory we’re talking about:
Down To The Waterline
Six Blade Knife
Water Of Love
Wild West End
Sultans Of Swing
What’s The Matter Baby?
Tunnel Of Love
Awesome! The sound quality’s great. Hearing these songs live from that period is awesome, as the versions are pretty close to the albums but there’s a live edge to it all, something real and visceral and alive.
The first seven tracks were recorded July 22, 1978 for the BBC Live In Concert series. The booklet says Tunnel Of Love was recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test On January 31, 1981, but Wiki says it was really from Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Germany, on December 19, 1980.
What’s The Matter Baby? was an unreleased song, the only song not written solely by Mark Knopfler (it was co-written with brother David, who does play here). The riff and basic song are essentially Lady Writer, though, so it’s not really exciting new material.
Still, it’s wonderful to hear these songs in a live setting. And yes, I can think of a ton of other songs I would like to have heard them play, but this is what it is and it is pretty damn wonderful.
Dire Straits in 1980 was high and low… high: riding success from the last two records, and adding E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan… low: David Knopfler left the band during recording of this record. Through it all, this became one helluva record. Check it out:
Tunnel Of Love opens with an organ/piano intro (which is part of The Carousel Waltz by Rodgers & Hammerstein), before the band kicks into full Dire Straits blues rock mode. “She had a ticket for the races… let it rock and let it roll,” indeed. Love it. Romeo & Juliet is one of the band’s biggest songs and you know why. How gorgeous can it get? Just listen… Of course it was a single too. Skateaway builds into a decent rocker, but there’s something in the production that makes the bass drum thump weirdly, with an echo or something. I can’t not hear it, especially in the good headphones.
Expresso Love grows into a solid Dire Straits via E Street sound, and the combination totally works. Hand In Hand starts out pretty with piano and gently strummed guitar, then becomes a full band mid-tempo love track with a decent swing to it… and then the feel shifts multiple times throughout the song, which really holds the ear. Solid Rock is exactly that, straight up bluesy barroom rock Dire Straits-style, complete with rollicking keys in the background. Go go go! And finally, Les Boys is an interesting slow country-ish stomp tune about what the boys are up to together… It’s definitely an oddity on the album, but it’s fine by me.
I really liked this one, for the most part. A couple of odd choices, sound and tune-wise, but the overall record stands tall on the strength of its best songs, and it adds beautifully to the discography.
BONUS: For a great post and concert reminiscences on this one, READ 80SMETALMAN’S POST!
I dropped the needle on my LP copy of this 1979 second album from the mighty Dire Straits, and I was immediately adrift on a wave of bliss.
Once Upon A Time In The West opens with that bluesy guitar and lifts off into an almost reggae-feel blues that draws you in, holds you tight, and shows you the world. “Some of you mothers oughta lock up your daughters,” indeed! News keeps the tempo laid back and bluesily tells us a tale while that guitar sings beautifully in its own voice. Love the drum breakdown at the end. Where Do You Think You’re Going? opens on an acoustic riff so tasty while the cymbals wash over. By the time the band kicks in in full, you’re already fully invested in this incredible tune, but that extended guitar section holds you entranced… Communiqué brings the country honky tonk intro and my goodness I love that piano line, yet the verses are much more gentle. Interesting juxtaposition of two excellent sounds on this one. We ride out on the sweet honky blues, complete with handclaps…
Lady Writer is pure Dire Straits as you know it, up-tempo and that guitar underneath pinning everything down while the solo guitar overtop is gravy. If my reading of the interwubs is correct, this was the only single from the album (!), and I can see why it is… though I would say the rest are just as great! Angel Of Mercy rocks and rolls us perfectly, another straight up gem, complete with backing vocals on the chorus. There are times in this song I could have sworn it was Stones… Portobello Belle is sweet country bluesy rock about a lady (of course), again making me think of Stones with Keef singing and, coming from me, this is a compliment! Single-Handed Sailor is guitar-slinging awesomeness. It has soul, it has swing, and it’s another single if I ever heard one. And finally, Follow Me Home starts us off on the beach, breaking waves and bongo drums in the background. As the music builds, it becomes a blues groove so sweet, you wanna live right here forever. This was one of my favourite tracks on the record.
You know it. It’s another fully-realized work of art from Dire Straits. And it’s so damn perfect.
BONUS: For another great take on this one, CHECK OUT 80SMETALMAN’S POST!
Still on a Knopfler kick, here’s Dire Straits’ first album, from 1978 (!), and it’s a thing of absolute beauty. Now, in case you didn’t know the band’s origin story (and all superheroes have an origin story), here’s theirs:
“Dire Straits came about through a musical collaboration between Mark and David Knopfler. After graduating from college with a degree in English, Mark Knopfler took a job writing for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Wanting to pursue a career in music, he took a teaching position at Loughton College while playing music at night, performing with pub bands around town, including Brewer’s Droop and Cafe Racers. Following his divorce and struggling financially, Knopfler moved into his brother David’s flat, where John Illsley also lived. In 1977, Mark, John, and David decided to form a band. They recruited drummer Pick Withers and began rehearsing. A friend of Mark’s helped give the group their name, a reference to their financial situation. After a few months of rehearsals, the band borrowed enough money to record a five-song demo tape, which included the song “Sultans of Swing.” They took the tape to disc jockey Charlie Gillett, who had a radio show called “Honky Tonk” on BBC Radio London. The band respected Gillett and sought out his advice. Gillett liked what he heard and started playing “Sultans of Swing” on his show. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with the Vertigo Records division of Phonogram Inc.”
Awesome. And so, too, is this record…
Down To The Waterline, a single, psychs us out with a blues gentle intro and then bam! let’s go! and in full-on Dire Straits mode, no less. Such a distinctive sound, and what a great track. Water Of Love (the b-side for Down To The Waterline single) rolls things back with a sweet beat and brilliant slide guitar fills. This has a J.J. Cale feel to it and I love it. Setting Me Up sets us up (natch) with a busy country twangy rock swing sound that would fall apart if left in the hands of lesser bands. Six Blade Knife takes us back to the blues and Cale again, and with growly vocals, but this is not a complaint, not even close. I could listen to this all damn day. Southbound Again has a fun bounce to it, buoyed by that jittering guitar line and those bass stabs as the drums keep it between the ditches… seems so simple, really, but we know it’s not!
Sultans Of Swing, well, I don’t even need to comment on this one, do I? Of course not. What a monster hit track, perfect in every way. In The Gallery is a groovin’ blues that’s so sweet I didn’t want it to end when its 6:17 was up. Wild West End is deceptively titled, a sweet and slow dancer, late night in the bar story-telling at its best. And finally, Lions brings the mid-tempo blues with a touch of swing to the beat and I’m fully completely impressed.
My goodness, there isn’t even a mediocre track here, it’s all hits (in my humble opinion). Of course, my ear was constantly pulled towards the guitar work of one Mark Knopfler, the solos and the main riffs… all of it… but the whole band absolutely nails it. Every lyric is a tale worthy of a traveling raconteur, road-weary but willing to warm your night for the price of a drink and a meal… This copy I have here is the 1996 remaster and it sounds perfect. I also own the old original LP, which is even sweeter. Hot damn, what an album. I absolutely loved it.
BONUS: For a far more brilliant take than I could ever hope to offer, travel in time to 2015 and READ MR. 1537’s POST!
BONUS 2: For another far more brilliant look at the record, travel in time to 2012 and READ 80SMETALMAN’S POST!
Here we have Dire Straits’ 90s concert CD. Many big tracks here, and all are played well. As you’d guess, right?
Of course! But some cat named Andrew McGuire thinks otherwise:
This live album finds Mark Knopfler well into his decadent phase: prosperous, internationally acclaimed, and long past remembering the hard times and hungry years from which his band originally drew both its name and its attitude. Where the first three Dire Straits albums evinced a gritty determinism, an acknowledgement of their unfashionability coupled with an urgent desire to remake the world on their own terms, this seems bloated and self-congratulatory, so that even “Romeo And Juliet” (arguably Knopfler’s greatest achievement as a songwriter–and undoubtedly his most popular) sounds vaguely perfunctory; while other, lesser tracks (“Heavy Fuel”, “On Every Street”) are merely inconsequential, the songs little more than excuses upon which to hang extended lead-guitar noodling. Sting makes a dutiful appearance on “Money For Nothing”–but somehow those lyrics seem less ironic than they used to, less savage: more a bald statement of fact. And that’s scary. –Andrew McGuire
I dunno, Andrew, what else would you have them do? It’s 1993. They’re playing to huge crowds, so they’re gonna play the hits, they’re gonna sound somewhat like the album versions, and for all that, when it’s Dire Straits playing you know that’s gonna be pretty damn good! Who would listen to Dire Straits and complain if Mark Knopfler did a little bit of extra guitar noodling? This guy, apparently.
I didn’t get a whole lot of bloat or laziness from any of it. Check out the instrumental workout of album opener Calling Elvis (which ends up being 10:31), or the steel guitar brilliance on Walk Of Life, or the bluesiness of Heavy Fuel, or… Man, I could mention every song on here. Did you even listen to this in full before you wrote it up, or just scan the first 30 seconds of each song? Or were you multi-tasking ten other things while you tried to hear this too? Maybe you didn’t have the good headphones on. Those always help.
I give it two thumbs up. Excellent versions, perfect for their mid-90s sound, and I dig the warmth and that feel that you’re right there as they’re playing it all. Yes!
Tracks: Calling Elvis / Walk Of Life / Heavy Fuel / Romeo And Juliet / Private Investigations / Your Latest Trick / On Every Street / You And Your Friend / Money For Nothing / Brothers In Arms