November 9, 2021

Now that West and Pappalardi are both departed (along with Steve Knight also), there will be no more Mountain manifestations in the future, but while this evidence of their quality exists, you can remember them this way.

Ah, Mountain! Too often forgotten, apart from perhaps their much-covered Mississippi Queen and Nantucket Sleighride – the track which became known to almost everyone in the UK (even if they didn’t know what it was) as the dynamic theme tune to the long-running current affairs TV show Weekend World. In actual fact, there was much more to Mountain’s output than those ‘hits’, largely due to the inspired contrasting of guitarist Leslie West, with his wounded-bear bellow of a voice, with the much more smoothly melodic vocals of bassist Felix Pappalardi. They tended to sing their own compositions in the main, and the contrast both of singing and writing styles gave them similarities to the Lennon – McCartney dynamic, and as a precurser to Hodgson and Davies in Supertramp. It was this juxtaposition of the two which made Mountain’s all too brief early ’70s peak (you knew I would make that pun, I got it out of the way early) so exciting. Reformations in the ’80s and beyond without Pappalardi (who was shot dead by his wife Gail in 1983) were still good, but lacked the magic of the golden formula. During the band’s existence they put out two live albums – the brilliant if criminally short The Road Goes Ever On in 1972 (35 minutes only) and the later double Twin Peaks, an almost quintessential release, although sadly without drummer Corky Laing and original keyboardist Steve Knight. Those albums show a tantalisingly brilliant band in the live environment, capable of lengthy Cream-esque jamming (Nantucket Sleighride on Twin Peaks runs to 32 minutes and occupies two entire sides of vinyl!), so any appearance of live recordings from the era are extremely welcome.

This particular release contains two shows over three discs, the first two from a show on New Years’s Eve 1971 (venue unspecified) with the third coming from a Capitol Theatre show in 1974. By the time of the latter recording the band were without Knight (he had been replaced by rhythm guitarist David Perry), and had recorded the final studio recording with Pappalardi, the patchy and poorly received Avalanche. It is of no surprise therefore that the real gold here lies in these first two discs, as the show captured herein is something of a lost treasure, well recorded and often sublimely performed. The first opens with five West tracks, coming out of the traps with heavy, hard rocking intent, and the renditions of Don’t Look Around (from the second album Nantucket Sleighride) and Mississippi Queen are absolutely exceptional. Pappalardi’s lengthy, and more subtle, Silver Paper (also captured on Twin Peaks memorably) brings the disc to its end, apart from a West guitar showcase to close.

The second disc contains more Pappalardi genius with a superb and unusually concise Nantucket Sleighride and a stellar version of Travelling In The Dark, while there is also a welcome appearance of the track The Animal Trainer And The Toad, penned wittily around a rather harsh nickname bestowed upon the pair by a journalist (the slim, moustachioed Pappalardi was the animal trainer, and the sizeable bulk of West made him the toad). There is also another very welcome addition not present on either of the aforementioned live albums, in the shape of Pappalardi’s beautifully textured Woodstock-inspired piece For Yasgur’s Farm, though it must be pointed out that a bizarre error in the packaging lists this track as Theme For An Imaginary Western, a regular stage favourite which unusually is not present anywhere on this collection. This is something which really should be corrected, certainly if there is a second pressing, as Theme… is such a popular track that buyers could be left rather unhappy, despite the excellence of Yasgur’s Farm. Leaving that aside, however, we steam to the end with a pulverising Blood Of The Sun and a 23-minute Dreams Of Milk And Honey, which does admittedly try the patience a little, especially climaxing as it does in a six-minute drum solo, though also contains some superb ensemble improvisation. Being New Year’s Eve, a short Auld Lang Syne from West on guitar closes things. The sound is extremely good throughout the recording, making this one essential for the fan.

Disc three, from 1974, is however very much the poor relation in such illustrious company. Far from being a full recording, the only Mountain staples are Never In My Life, Mississippi Queen and an eleven minute Nantucket Sleighride, which does suffer from the lack of keyboards in the band at this point. Elsewhere we get a version of a song also covered by Iron Butterfly, Get Out Of My Life Woman, short instrumental It’s For You and a perfunctory closing run through Roll Over Beethoven and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. Oh, and a short West solo showcase, which features him playing Jungle Bells, in case you had ever yearned for such a thing. There are some very good parts scattered throughout these tracks, but the sound quality is not as good as the earlier show, and the extra guitar with no keyboards lends a heavier but less textured sound overall. Most bizarrely, after the aforementioned rock and roll numbers closing the show, there is an extra ten minute track from the Fillmore East in 1970 tacked on. Great, you may think. Wrong, you will soon say, on discovering that it is in fact a ten minute drum solo. Nothing else, just a ten minute unaccompanied drum solo and ‘Ladies And Gentlemen, Corky Laing’. Why on earth this was chosen when such regularly played classics as …Imaginary Western or Crossroader are absent is baffling in the extreme!

Overall this is certainly a recording which any Mountain aficionado (or even casual fan to be honest) should own. The first two discs see to that. The way I would advise looking at it is as a double live recording with a ‘bonus disc’. That certainly makes the content entirely satisfactory. Now that West and Pappalardi are both departed (along with Steve Knight also), there will be no more Mountain manifestations in the future, but while this evidence of their quality exists, you can remember them this way.