Mountain is one of my favorite bands of all time, Leslie West is one of my top 3 rock guitarists, and FLOWERS OF EVIL, their 3rd half studio / half live release, changed a good part of my listening preferences as regards the four chord beauty hard rock provides. The album has a a studio side, which resolutely blows due mostly to the lyrics of Gail Collins, wife to and murderer of bassist Felix Papalardi; her rhymes seem nothing less than a botched combination of Harry Chapin and the vacuous spiritualism of Jon Anderson, with strong doses of Dungeons and Dragons poured into the wretched mix to further enhance the gag reflex.
This disc changed my life for side two, the live side, which , to my mind, is a as fine and as well played, on its down terms, as any live album I've purchased . Recorded at the Fillmore East in NYC in 1971. It is one of the great moments of Hard Rock guitar, with a great, lumbering riff that distorts and buzzes on the low strings with crushing bends and harmonics squealing at some raging pitch that might make one think of natural calamity, a force that cannot be withstood. West, never the most fluid guitarist, had, all the same, a touch, a feel, a sense of how to mix the sweet obbligato figures he specialized in with the more brutal affront of power chords and critically nasty riffing.
The smarter among us can theorize about the virtues of amplified instrumentation attaining a threshold of sweetness after the sheer volume wraps you in a numbing cacophony, but for purposes here it suffices to say, with a wink, that is a kind of music you get and accept on its own truncated terms, or ignore outright. There is an aesthetic at work here, but it might as well come to saying that you had to be me, at my age, in 1971 when I was struck by this performance to understand a little of why I haven't tossed the disc into the dustbin.
He is in absolute control of his Les Paul Jr., and here he combines with bassist Felix Pappalardi and drummer Corky Laing in some theme and variation that accomplishes what critic Robert Christgau has suggested is the secret of great rock and roll music, repetition without tedium. There are no thousand-note blitzkriegs, no tricky time signatures, just tight playing, a riffy, catchy, power-chording wonder of rock guitar essential-ism. I've been listening to this track on and off since I graduated from high school, and it cracks me up that my obsession with this particular masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a number of my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem." I might have even lit a Bic lighter for this tune.
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