Mark Knopfler’s amazing career is enhanced by the American release this month of his two discs, twenty song album, Privateering , but let’s take a look back at a lesser known but perhaps his most amazing release, the double live Dire Straits CD, Alchemy: Dire Straits Live. Alchemy surfaced in 1984 after the release of the studio masterpiece Love Over Gold and preceded the megahit Brothers In Arms. In many ways Alchemy marked the beginning of the end of Dire Straits.
The album was propelled by the driving beat of then-new drummer Terry Williams. Williams, the former drummer to Nick Lowe and the bands Rockpile and Man added a unabashed rock urgency to the songs. His dynamic take on (the now classic) “Romeo and Juliet”, “Tunnel of Love”, and “Telegraph Road” adds and urgency and passion missing on the versions of those songs when played by Knopfler’s solo bands. Alchemy marks Williams’ first and only full Dire Straits album with him and him alone in the drum chair since replacing original drum great Pick Withers.
Of course, Dire Straits had the talented hands of Alan Clark on keyboards since the release of the Making Movies album in 1980 and original bassist John Illsley, who fit with Williams , hand in glove. Only new rhythm guitarist and David Knopfler replacement Hal Lindes seemed a tad out of step on a few tracks.
You can’t talk Dire Straits and not state the obvious. Mark Knopfler proves in his first live recording why he’s considered a guitarist’s guitarist. His solos are fiery yet fluid. He’s the king of taste and economy yet knows when the big guitar statement is needed. His classical guitar playing on the intoxicating song “Private Investigations” almost defies description. His blues playing on the album opener, “Once Upon A Time In The West” immediately draws in the listener, and his straight ahead rock playing on the song “Solid Rock” makes you want to whip out your air guitar.
This is ten songs/ninety minutes of primal, yet sophisticated rock. After Alchemy, Dire Straits added a second keyboardist, fired second guitarist Hal Lindes and used Sting drummer Omar Hakim for part of their sales giant Brothers In Arms. It was the end of a great band…