As the houselights dimmed in Detroits Cobo Hall last week, the concertmaster signaled for the oboist's A, and the strings and woodwinds went about the squeaky business of tuning up. Then like something out of an old Esther Williams spectacular, Conductor Godfrey Salmon rose 14 feet in the air atop a hydraulic podium. Silence reigned for a good second or two before the cries came from the audience: "Rock 'n' roll!" "Get it on!" "It's boogie time!"Read all two atmospheric pages of wonder here.
Not quite boogie time. The British rock group Emerson Lake & Palmer had not brought along a full 58-piece symphony orchestra for just another evening of chug-a-chug rock. As Maestro Salmon gave the downbeat, 9,500 fans, many reared on the violent excesses of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, got the first sampling of what was in store for them. From 40 huge loudspeaker enclosures suspended from the ceiling came the mighty sounds of Abaddon's Bolero, a work Composer-Pianist Keith Emerson has based on the same Spanish rhythm as the Ravel classic.
After a few bars, a thick curtain of light, produced by in tense lights rimming the stage, dissolved to reveal Keith Emerson, 32, Greg Lake, 29 and Carl Palmer, 27, hard at work on the center. There was Keith darting from Hammond organ to Moog synthesizer, and Greg picking away at his bass-guitar. Between them sat Carl, confined along with his drums, snares, gongs and tubular bells in a percussion cockpit that resembled nothing so much as a mod four-poster converted into a padded cell for the phantom of the opera. The music built relentlessly, awesomely powered by 72,000 watts worth of amplification -enough to start a medium-sized radio station. The volume never reached the threshold of pain (130 decibels), but it was, in Salmon's words, "enough to peel an apple ten feet".
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