On December 11th, legendary guitar hero Leslie West played an intimate club show at Daryl’s House in Pawling, New York to support his new album, Soundcheck. Before playing a single note, West warned his audience that he was suffering from a brutal cold, but assured them that he was going to ‘’give it his all.” Such a “heads-up” statement was meant to provide an understanding, in case illness affected performance negatively. However, the next 75 minutes proved no reason to be disappointed; backed by virtuoso bassist Rev Jones, the Mountain man delivered an electrifying set of covers and classics that made the audience forget his earlier warning and remember why he’s known as “The King of Tone.”
Throughout his entire career, West’s music projects have recorded and performed other artist’s songs alongside original material, and the show’s set honored this tradition. On this particular evening, the duo of West and Jones opened with the Impressions’ 1965 R&B-meets-gospel single “People Get Ready,” for the most part staying true to the song’s melody while injecting a touch of blues.
The intensity and intricacy of Rev Jones’ solo instrumental take on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” astounded the audience early on. Jack Bruce’s “Theme From An Imaginary Western” made it into the set list, as it has on most nights since becoming a fan favorite at Mountain concerts back in the late sixties. With Bruce’s recent passing, this song alone could be seen as a tribute to the legendary bass player, but perhaps due to the fact that many Mountain fans never knew of Bruce’s original yet lesser-known version, West decided to give a more obvious salute, delivering a hat trick of Cream classics; “Politician,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Crossroads.” It was Cream that inspired West to form Mountain, and Bruce played alongside West in a short-lived power trio (West, Bruce and Laing) back in the early seventies; such an all-out “tip of the hat” showed that the Bruce’s influence and memories that he shared with guitarist clearly weren’t lost on West.
When it came to original compositions, the West and Jones duo applied their minimalist approach to classics from the Mountain catalog. “Blood of the Sun” lacked the crash-and-bash of Corky Laing’s drums, but West’s monster riffage and Jones’ thunder caused ripples in every full drinking glass. “Nantucket Sleighride” lacked the layer of heady organ that’s heard on the original recording, but West’s face melting guitar playing and Jones’ hypnotic bottom maintained the song’s dark psychedelic feel. As for the inevitable “Mississippi Queen,” there was nothing that the duo could do about the lack of the song’s iconic cowbell, but the audience was more than happy to help with that, clapping away as they belted out Mountain’s most enduring hit.
The intimate size of the venue lent itself to West’s rock and roll storytelling and plenty of interaction with the audience. He dished on his friendship with Howard Stern and how the radio icon inspired his stuttering introduction on the Metal Show each week. He shared some of his adventures in business, from bad experiences (early recording deals) to good experiences (profits made as a result of “Long Red” being sampled over 300 times for hip-hop and R&B recordings.) He pondered a conspiracy theory with the crowd, questioning whether or not it was the mafia that burned down a popular music venue he used to play in the seventies. When a fan asked him which guitarists currently digs on, he responded with names like Joe Bonnamassa, Joe Satriani, Johnny Lange and the same English chap who inspired him half a century earlier, Eric Clapton.
Despite combatting a cold and facing the limitations of a two-man band, the Woodstock veteran and heavy metal founding father put on a stellar performance. His voice may have felt like it was shot, but to the listener’s ears, it sounded like he was singing with the same husky passion as he always did, and while West may have been under the weather, his guitar playing was over the top. All of his signature six-string attributes were on display, from the heaviness and the vigor, to the note bending finesse; the sound of amplified soul. Much praise should also be sent Jones way, for the ebullience, brilliance and attitude heard in his musicianship was often as captivating to watch as the hard rock guitar icon beside him. When the night came to a close with “Turn Out the Lights,” a song that he originally recorded with Slash and Zakk Wylde for his 2011 album Unusual Suspects, both West and Jones received a standing ovation.