Emerson, Lake and Melvin

Back in the days of festival seating, if you wanted a good seat at a concert, you had to get to the venue early. One fine night in the 1970s, a bunch of us were lined up outside the Dane County Coliseum here in Madison when a guy in line nearby started yelling in a voice that sounded like broken glass and scrap metal, screechy and raspy at the same time. “Let us in! Let us in!” The guy was maybe 5-foot-5, and he seemed more funny than threatening. At one point he paused, grabbed an empty beer can, smashed it flat on his forehead, and yelled, “I’m Melvin Funlinger, goddammit! Let us in!” I can never attend anything at the Coliseum, down unto to this very day, without thinking about Melvin. Of course, I don’t get to the Coliseum much anymore. It doesn’t book as many shows as it used to, and rarely the kind of shows I’m interested in.

‘Twas not always thus. The Dane County Coliseum (known now as “Veterans Memorial Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center”) was once the main concert venue in the region. From the 70s to the 90s, everybody who was anybody in rock played there: the Grateful Dead (February 3, 1978), Queen (June 3, 1975, February 28, 1976, and June 12, 1978), Pink Floyd (March 4, 1973), AC/DC (May 8, 1979), Elvis (October 19, 1976, and June 24, 1977), David Bowie (October 11, 1974), and Elton John (September 4, 1980), to name just a few. Plus it was the venue for Wisconsin Badgers hockey, tractor pulls, flea markets, and other events. My first-grade class went to the circus there in 1967, right after the building opened. Later, I saw the Electric Light Orchestra, Billy Joel, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer—twice.

Oddly enough, the ELP concerts took place within five months of each other. On June 9, 1977, the Works tour hit town with a full orchestra. It was the first concert I ever went to by myself without parental escort, although I believe my pal Dave’s dad drove us. We learned about festival seating that night, finally finding two way up at the top of the building—but I don’t remember much about the show other than that, except the ticket price, which was $7.50.

(The June 9 show was ELP’s second visit to southern Wisconsin in four days. On June 5, they had played Milwaukee, presumably at County Stadium, sharing a bill with the J. Geils Band, Foghat, and the Climax Blues Band in one of those glorious daylong displays of 70s musical democracy. After that, they zipped down to Indianapolis for a show, then back up to Madison.)

Thirty-one years ago this week—November 8, 1977—Emerson, Lake and Palmer returned to Madison as a trio. (The orchestra had proved ruinously expensive, and the orchestra got smaller and smaller as the tour progressed.) The second leg of their 1977 tour took them mostly to college towns, but why they returned to Madison, I don’t know. (One comprehensive listing of tour dates shows that they may also have played Houston, Texas, and Wheeling, West Virginia twice, but those could be errors.) By then, I loved ELP with the passion only a 17-year-old prog-rock geek could gin up. (A passion I have lost, by the way.) On that November night, the band opened with a version of the theme from the TV show Peter Gunn, which remains the coolest concert-opening number I’ve ever seen. Ticket price: $8.50.

A while back I found a bootleg of a show ELP played in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 20, 1977, less than two weeks after I saw them at the Coliseum. This one’s for you, Melvin.

“Peter Gunn Theme”/Emerson, Lake and Palmer (buy a different live version of “Peter Gunn” and other ELP essentials here)

3 thoughts on “Emerson, Lake and Melvin

  1. Back in the mid-80s, a friend dragged me to the DCC to see INXS. He was a BIG FAN, to say the least. At that point, I was only lukewarm. I wasn’t too thrilled with festival seating, either.

    We got there well before the gates opened, rushed in as soon as it did open, and positioned ourselves at ground zero. After the opening act of the Elvis Brothers (yawn!), INXS hit the stage.

    What a concert! The best part was being groped by all the women hoping to get close to Michael Hutchence by climbing over me. Bring a lunch.

    After that night, I was a HUGE FAN of INXS and festival seating.

  2. Shark

    A few eeks after you saw ELP in Madison, Wisconsin, I saw America on November 21, 1977 at the Dane County Coliseum. A friend of mine asked me to go with him to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to pick up another friend of ours from college. So I went with him and, when we arrived at our friend’s dorm room in Oshkosh, he told us he got tickets to see America for as in appreciation of us driving to Oshkosh to pick him up . I wasn’t a big fan of America, but I really enjoyed the show. It was festival seating and we sat right up front. The opening act was none other than Jimmy Webb (R.I.P) who sang his very own MacArthur Park. I think he also did “Wichita Lineman.” I enjoyed that America concert so much, I went out and bought “America Live” (which had just been released) the next day. I still have that album to this very day.

  3. Just as you saw ELP twice within a few months, I once saw Yes twice within a few months.
    And to make matters worse, it was on the overblown, stage-clogging “Union” tour, circa 1990.

    I was in HS; I liked Yes; and a good friend of mine *really* liked Yes, to the point where he would have bought tickets to see Tony Kaye fronting a band of trained gibbons if the tickets had had “Yes” imprinted on them.

    The first of the shows was at Buffalo’s old War Memorial Auditorium. It was *in the round*, a theatrical pretense I don’t think ELP ever got around to.
    The second show was at an outdoor amphitheater.

    My main memories are of Trevor Rabin (in leather pants, I think) hogging the guitar solos; and of Tony Kaye waving to the crowd with one hand and playing keyboards with the other, completely surplus to Rick Wakeman.

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