For the first day w/o Red Sox baseball for the next five months and because I've been listening to Dires Straits a lot lately, I'll start this thread.
Dire Strait easily ranks among my favorite bands -- knocking on the door to top 5, although if push came to shove, it might simply be easier to have five or six bands all be tied, which is probably the real truth.
If ever there was a band whose studio albums does a "disservice" to their live performances, it's Dire Straits. I put a quotes because their studio albums are superb, but you don't realize the group's greatness until you hear live performances.
The first songs I heard from them were on the radio, probably in this order -- Sultans of Swing, Skateaway then Industrial Disease. They were the radio songs when each of the albums they were on came out. I liked all three songs (love the line in ID, "Two men said they're Jesus; one of them must be wrong) but it wasn't until later when I realized just how good Dire Straits came out.
That's when I got the live album Alchemy, the first album of theirs I bought. When I saw the album in the record store, I got it because I liked Sultans of Swing and figured, let's hear the live version.
As soon as I heard it, I was blown away. The live version was incredible. You get a taste throughout, especially with the small instrumental bit before the final verse. Then the extended instrumental comes and it's amazing. It jams, goes real soft with delicate playing -- Knofler has an amazing light touch -- then keeps building and building. I still get chills up my spine at the peak of the buildup right before the guitar flouish that matches the ending on the studio version and again when he's playing that ending. I don't know how many times I listened to that song before I finally listened to the rest of the album. Probably wore it out.
A side note about SOS. He played that song at Live Aid and the instrumental part at the end is nearly the same but there's a saxaphone bit that's added. (If you search for the song on You Tube, you can hear other versions with the sax too and w/o). I can't make up my mind if I like it with or w/o the sax. On the one hand, it's a beautiful peace of music that is played, but it sometimes takes away the impact of the guitar buildup.
Back to Alchemy, I finally listened to the album from start to finish and it was one great song after another, nearly all I was hearing for the first time. It's real interesting to compare the studio version of Once Upon a Time in the West, which is a solid song, then listen to how he tranformed it into something so much better live.
Tunnel of Love is another song that is off the charts when you hear the live version. One of my favorite songs. The instrumental at the end of that matches SOS in terms of brilliance. And the bit of Rogers and Hammerstein he plays as an intro to the song is excellent.
Even Romeo and Juliet, which I know is a favorite Dire Straits song of some posters, is transformed with the live version.
Having said that, all his studio albums are strong. In fact, my least favorite album might be his most successful -- Brothers in Arms. The success, because of MTV, of Money for Nothing IMO took away from the real brilliance of Knofler and the band.
However, the song Brothers in Arms ranks among my favorite songs. Both live and studio, it is a beautiful peace of music and really shows off Knofler's delicate touch on the guitar. He plays it on guitar and sings it with great emotion. It's very poignant.
Knofler, of course, is a great guitarist with a unique style. But Dire Straits isn't just about his guitar work. If you really listen, the other parts -- piano, sax, bass, drums -- really add to the songs. There's some great drum work on the live version of SOS (and other songs), and the piano flourish at the end of Tunnel of Love helps end the song perfectly.