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Makes you wish they'd go on and on and on!
on 16 January 2003
Have you ever wondered how many variations of a song, or of a song's theme a band can perform live without ever getting boring? Ever listened to somebody play and wished he'd never stop because he is just that great? "Alchemy" is exactly that kind of experience. Recorded two years before what was probably their most successful studio album ("Brothers in Arms"), this more than 90 minute-long live release easily explains why Dire Straits took off with rocket speed in a time otherwise dominated by disco music on the one hand and punk on the other, and why to this day they are considered one of the greatest rock bands ever to have existed. Listen to the first chords of "Once Upon a Time in the West," and you'll know why Mark Knopfler is, in addition to all his other accomplishments, a much sought-after film score composer. Listen to "Romeo and Juliet," and you'll understand why the greatest love story ever told truly is more than a story of two rich kids born to feuding families a couple of centuries ago in Italy, and holds as much truth for us streetwise teenagers of the late 20th century as it did 400 years ago. Listen to "Telegraph Road," and you'll find a dark, brooding novel of epic proportions condensed into one song, culminating with as haunting and intense a guitar solo as you'll ever hear - by Mark Knopfler or anybody else.
From their first studio album on, Dire Straits defied the three-minute limits imposed by the conventions of radio airplay. But it has always been in a live venue that Mark Knopfler's talent shines most, and that he is able to fully explore all that his Fender will give him ... and more. Each song on this double CD is extended as compared to its respective studio version; no less than four of them ("Once Upon a Time in the West," "Sultans of Swing," "Tunnel of Love" and "Telegraph Road") are over ten minutes long, three even over 13 minutes - only a Dire Straits live album would make it necessary for "just" 11 songs to be spread out over two discs. But these recordings are not about length. They are about one man's dialogue with his guitar, the poetry of his lyrics, his awareness of society; in short, all that great music stands for and can express.
Gifted as he is, Mark Knopfler has always found musicians who are exceptionally talented in their own right to provide a foundation he can build on, and this early (although not the earliest) incarnation of Dire Straits is no exception. Yet this band, in all of its formations over the course of the years, was as dominated by Knopfler's musical genius as few other bands have ever been, and nothing could have made this clearer than their live recordings; an experience only surpassed by actually witnessing Knopfler live on stage, particularly as he just seems to get better and better over the course of the years. "Telegraph Road" alone, the dramatic finale of his unforgettable live appearances during his tour in support of his 2000 album "Sailing to Philadelphia," left me completely stunned and wishing the show would go on and on for hours more.
"Anybody who finds nothing to love here has either got a problem with the essential fabric of rock and roll or cloth ears," writes music journalist Robert Sandall in the introduction to Dire Straits' greatest hits album, "Sultans of Swing." And while this is true for anything they have ever released over the course of their career, and likewise for each and every one of Knopfler's solo albums and movie scores, you have to have more than cloth ears and a problem with the things that rock music is all about not to be inspired by this incredible piece of live recording.