Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Little Victory

And even Stephen Abraham agrees with me.

"Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible."
—Francis Bacon

And another: "The perfect excuse for war"
Filth? Ha!: "Shame on all the skeptics"
Rebuttal: "Shame on all the skeptics"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On The Night

One of the best things about music is the discovery process, because by and large, music is a constant pursuit. This explains why we often only like music that we find ourselves.

Last month I discovered On The Night, a gem of a live album by classic rock outfit Dire Straits. This was a treasured find for two reasons. One, because Dire Straits' already great songs sound greater live, where the band has room to explore their unique sonic textures. And two, because I can't help but feel that this album was overlooked when it was released in 1993, lost in the shuffle of grunge's heydey and the twilight of a career.

Fronted by Mark Knopfler, one of the most masterful finger-picking guitarists of our time, Dire Straits made music that was always a little left of center. The British quartet emerged in the post-punk era of the late 1970s to play what was decidedly not post-punk. Actually, their body of work makes for an interesting study, given the melding of roots rock, blues-jazz stylings, MTV-made singles, and slow-burning ruminations. And even as their sound grew to incorporate some of the cheesier earmarks of the '80s, Dire Straits maintained a pop sensibility while never losing their mature edge.
"The band's music was offset by Knopfler's lyrics, which approximated the winding, stream-of-conscious narratives of Bob Dylan." —Allmusic
On The Night works so well because it does what any live album should do, which is capture a band at its peak with the intangible energy that can't be felt from a studio recording. As evidence: the exuberant buildup of the already happy-go-lucky "Walk Of Life"; the realization of arena-rock power on "Heavy Fuel"; the dark intrigue and palpable eeriness of "Private Investigations"; and the simple romantic beauty of the three-note licks on "Romeo And Juliet". Although some of these moments are represented musically in their studio counterparts, none are actually felt the same way.

But the greater success of On The Night is the transcendence of the songs themselves, over half of which are augmented with more progressive arrangements. With the free reign of the live setting, songs like opener "Calling Elvis" and closer "Brothers In Arms" expand gracefully without overstaying their welcome. Moreover, most of the 10 tracks here are jazzed up and countrified with liberal use of saxophone and pedal steel guitar, which provides a warm richness that plays to their advantage.

On The Night provides a snapshot of an under-appreciated band in their prime, not long before they hung up the guitars for good. While it includes most of the hits, the set list plays naturally, without the obligation to include all the hits—"Sultans Of Swing" and "So Far Away" are noteably absent, but not missed.

Even though Dire Straits is long gone from the modern zeitgeist, on this night, we can all look back and savor the moment with a fond sense of retroactive nostalgia.