Dire Straits new box set fills some early live gaps

A great chance to catch the band throughout their live journey over the years and to hear them in great form at an early peak.
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Calling all Dire Straits fans, the new release is certainly worth a listen. But it might take some time to get through it all. Some of their earliest live work is on there and definitely worth a listen.

Their extensive live music collection Dire Straits – Live 1978-1992 was released this week in the UK and worldwide, apart from the US which has a January 19, 2024 release date. In addition to already released live albums there’s plenty of new material in the boxed set of twelve LPs / eight CDs. A 16 page booklet with the physical format box set has photos and information about the bands live tours. 

This collection has been overseen by Guy Fletcher. Previously he was a member of Dire Straits from 1984, playing keyboards.  Fletcher has been remixing and acting as executive producer for this collection. It's been a four-year journey for him from the live box set concept to this release as his online diary explains. 

Dire Straits live updates and extras

A couple of the live albums in the set, Alchemy and On The Night have already been released. These are new updated versions and have some extras this time round. Additional live tracks have been added to each and Alchemy has three new extended live versions of “Telegraph Road”, “Solid Rock” and “Going Home”.

Like many bands, Dire Straits were also invited to record live sessions at the BBC. The box set includes a collection of those from 1978 through to 1981. There is also an EP with additional tracks for the On The Night tour. Overall there are 29 unreleased tracks in the new box set. 

Dire Straits Live at the Rainbow

Potentially the most interesting item in the collection is Live At The Rainbow. This hasn’t been released before and the recordings apparently only came to Fletcher's awareness during the work for the box set. A short six song unofficial recording did emerge in 2021. 

This album has the band performing at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury, London back in late December 1979. Although it is now a church, the theatre was one of the top music venues in the '70s with a lengthy list of huge acts who have played there. This was a top venue for what was becoming a top band.

Dire Straits single “Sultans Of Swing” had hit the charts earlier in 1979. Their self titled and big selling debut album was released in June the year before. Communique, their second album came out in June 1979. This live set draws mainly from those first two albums with a couple from their third, Making Movies, introduced as new songs. 

Dire Straits live at an early peak

The band had been touring for some time and by now had a tight and well honed performance. It was a good time to catch them live at an early peak. They sound great on the album, it captures that early and distinctive sound they had. Opening with an extended and atmospheric build up to “Down To The Waterline” they are soon rocking through over 20 songs with an interesting added encore. 

My measure of a live set is often how well they play my favourite songs. “Sultans Of Swing” is that and it sounds brilliant. Surprisingly early in the set, it’s the sixth number they play. There’s some slight adaptations in Mark Knopfler's vocal style from the record and added intricacies in his guitar play at times, but it’s still a great song and shows the band on top form.

Fletcher talks in his diary of his surprise at hearing Phil Lynott’s vocals on an encore track when he first listened in. To recordings he had been sent. The Thin Lizzy frontman along with The Fabulous Poodles lead singer Tony De Muer appear on the last four tracks of the set. The four were all covers rather than Dire Straits songs. 

That recording, spread over a couple of CDs and four vinyl discs is the highlight for me. It takes me back to buying their first and second albums and so many memories of playing them at that time. They had plenty more great music to come, the remainder of the box covers their live act comprehensively over the years. Live at the Rainbow is the one that will get the most repeat plays on my speakers. 

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