A Dire Straits box set bringing together live recordings from the entire period of the group’s existence between 1978 and 1992 has just been released. Something fans have been waiting for for a long time, as this group has reached such heights.
Dire Straits were one of the great groups of the 80s. Perhaps even the one at the top of the world in 1985-86 with the phenomenal success of the album Brothers in arms, and the gigantic tour that followed. With six studio albums and three live albums released between 1978 and 1995, Dire Straits offered a discography certainly recognized but for many it does not live up to the size of the group, especially on stage. After its dissolution in 1993, then a 1978 live release released in 1995, Mark Knopfler began a brilliant solo career, and the juggernaut he had created fell somewhat into oblivion, reappearing from time to time through a compilation offering nothing new. However, reissues of old recordings are plentiful in the rock world. All major artists, and even the most recent ones, have long been entitled to luxury editions, re-releases of forgotten treasures, whether models, unreleased releases or concerts.
But in this area, Dire Straits was an exception, we suppose largely because of Mark Knopfler who did not wish to rehash this past which he had voluntarily sought to thwart by approaching his solo career from a very high profile. discreet. But obviously he changed his mind.
Is this his announcement to stop performing on his last tour? The feeling of approaching the end of your career, when you’ve been waiting for the release of your new album for at least three years? The fans’ insistence on dedicated keyboardist Guy Fletcher who mixed these reissues? Whatever the reason, this box set is finally here Live 1978-1992. So obviously, with such expectations, the bar was very high, and most fans, including the author of these lines, cannot help but be difficult and add their two cents…
A taste of unfinished business
Exhuming live recordings could only arouse excitement, particularly from the flagship period of Dire Straits, the first half of the 80s. Live Alchemy recorded in July 1983 is often considered the band’s musical peak, while the following tour in 1985-86 as the peak of their notoriety. For the latter it’s very simple, no concert in this box set! A box set dedicated to the memory of Jack Sonni, the second guitarist of this era, who died recently. The reason would be the absence of multi-track recordings of this tour… It is hard to believe that the group described as the biggest in the world at that time did not deign to record a few concerts of this world tour sponsored by Philips, then in the midst of the promotional launch of the CD format. But that’s how it is. There is still hope for the future of two concerts broadcast on television in England and Australia, but the rights problems probably do not simplify things, although the official YouTube channel of the group publishes more and more regularly recently extracts from these broadcasts.
As for live Alchemy, of which this box set takes up the legendary design, how can we not be happy to finally have it in its entirety? The group’s musical achievement would finally reach its conclusion by offering the public the hidden treasures of this anthology concert… Except that Guy Fletcher, who remixed the said treasures, granted himself the freedom to cut parts of them! An introduction here, a speech from Mark Knoplfer there, and above all a passage greatly appreciated by many fans, the finale of the song Portobello Belle. A jubilant musical joust between Mark Knopfler’s guitar and Mel Collins’ saxophone, which continued with the presentation of the musicians, before merging into the sequence with the following title, Tunnel of love. The pirate recordings attest to this, it was truly one of the highlights of the concerts on this tour.
We can only regret Guy Fletcher’s abrupt decision to cut this passage solely for his own discretion, even though he was not part of the group at the time! And no technical constraint imposed this choice, unlike the change of order between Solid Rock And Telegraph Road to adjust for the duration of the vinyl sides.
Good ideas but…
For the 1991-92 tour we discover several gems that were missing from the overproduced live On the night released in 1993. Tracks occasionally played outside of the standard setlist such as When it comes to you, I think I love you too much, Fade to blackor on the contrary the inevitable Sultans of swing, Two young lovers, Telegraph Road And Tunnel of love, missing from the original live album. The version of Tunnel of love, offers beautiful moments of soaring and airy guitar.
But here again, we will not be able to enjoy the other rare pieces played in the fall of 1991, nor one of the highlights of the tour, Planet of New Orleans. We notice that this was also a very beautiful guitar-saxophone duo… definitely… And then we will perhaps accuse the fan of nitpicking, but it would still have been wise to put the pieces in the real order from the setlist! With the reissues of Dire Straits, we always have the impression of having the right idea, but which is never completely finalized until the end.
The nugget: an unpublished concert from 1979
Fortunately, the box set contains a double disc which alone justifies the acquisition. Recorded and filmed by the BBC in December 1979 at the Rainbow Theater in London, it was the very last Dire Straits concert in its original format, two guitars, a bass, a drums, and energy to spare. By all accounts, Mark Knopfler was at his best that night. Far from his future stage performances in the early 90s, which some would describe as boring, he sings and plays with passion, jokes between songs, harangues the audience, and, one imagines, struggles on stage.
We had already seen some extracts from this concert on the show Arena broadcast on the BBC in 1980, but what a joy to finally have the show in full, with the addition of Phil Lynott and Tony De Meur for encores to the sound of wild rock’n’roll, through covers of standards.
On most of the tracks, we perceive in the playing and the arrangements the beginnings of what Dire Straits’ music would become later, a mixture of very rootsy inspirations between blues and country with progressive rock influences tending to stretch the pieces through long instrumental passages. A unique alchemy which still delights a large audience today.
A public who can only rejoice to finally see such recordings officially released. All that’s missing is the little final touch and the attention to detail, which is not always there, for everything to be truly perfect. But we don’t despair. In 2025, the mythical Brothers in arms will celebrate its 40th anniversary… So, who knows, finally a truly worthy reissue of Dire Straits?
Dire Straits Live 1978-1992
In stores since November 3 (Universal), available in 8CD or 12LP box set and in digital version on streaming platforms
Gn Fr Enter