Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dire Straits 9: On The Night and Live At The BBC

Despite lackluster reviews, On Every Street was a huge hit around the globe, and was followed by a massive world tour that kept the band on the road for over a year. Such an undertaking was likely done with the idea that it would never happen again, and to underline the finality of it all, the tour was documented on On The Night.

Everything is bigger since Alchemy, and even the Brothers In Arms tour, with nine guys now onstage. As he did on the album they were supporting, Paul Franklin adds prominent pedal steel throughout. This is noticeable right away, where “Calling Elvis” is stretched out to ten minutes. New drummer Chris Whitten, fresh from Paul McCartney’s world tour, pounds the skins. Twenty minutes are given over to “Romeo And Juliet” and “Private Investigations”, which of course had already been on Alchemy and not necessarily enhanced here. Everything else comes from the last two albums, and all are crowd-pleasers, but here they’re mostly longer with more guitar solos and interplay, some of which is intriguing and some of which is noodling. A song like “You And Your Friend” can set a mood on a home stereo, but pretty much plods in an arena. That said, the closing “Brothers In Arms” is positively majestic and moving.

In the UK where such things were more common, “Your Latest Trick” was released as a single, promoted as the Encores EP, sporting a hot pink photo negative of the On The Night cover, bolstered by three songs that weren’t on the album: “The Bug” (which actually came earlier in the set), and familiar Alchemy favorites “Solid Rock”, and “Local Hero—Wild Theme”. Some thirty years later, the Live 1978-1992 box set expanded the original album to two discs, adding three more lengthy repeats from Alchemy as well as another “Two Young Lovers”, two songs from On Every Street, but most interestingly, the ultra-rare “I Think I Love You Too Much”, which was performed at Knebworth in 1990 with guest Eric Clapton, and covered that year on an album by blind blues phenom Jeff Healey. (The Encores EP was repeated on its own.)

Just how far the band had come—or sunk, depending on your point of view—was soon underscored by the excellent and very welcome Live At The BBC. This late-century surprise combined a 1978 radio appearance by the initial quartet playing six songs from the first album, plus the rarity “What’s The Matter Baby”, cowritten with brother David Knopfler, and which sounds like a blueprint for “Lady Writer”. Fleshing out the disc is a 1980 TV performance of “Tunnel Of Love”, complete with both intros as eventually heard on Alchemy, that is worth the twelve minutes even after Mark’s guitar has gone way out of tune. Even with the addition of keyboards, they were very tight.

Dire Straits On The Night (1993)—
Dire Straits
Live At The BBC (1996)—

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