On my last birthday I was asked, if I could only choose one album to play that day, what would it be? It didn’t take me long to reply with Bat Out Of Hell. I gave a slightly flippant reason but, while I admit that I have better albums in my collection, Meat Loaf’s second and probably most famous album is definitely one of my favourites. It’s been in my collection, in one form or another since the early 80s and no matter how long I go between playing it, I can “sing” along to every word. I love the whole rock opera sound of the album, the power, the passion, the emotion. I love the whole cheesiness of it. I own a fair few of Meat Loaf’s albums and I don’t think he’s topped Bat Out Of Hell, even though it doesn’t include the best track written for him by Jim Steinman (that’s Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, from the 1993 “sequel” album, which is the only one that comes close to the original). I have seen Meat Loaf live before, back when I was a semi-regular arena attendee but the announcement that the current tour was to be his last and that the whole of Bat Out Of Hell would be played was enough to convince me to splash out for tickets (yes, plural – we went as a family) for my first arena concert for many a year and, indeed, my first gig out of York since I saw Chris Rea in Harrogate some eight years ago. The previous two dates on the tour had been postponed (one at very short notice) due to an illness that laid all but one of the band low but, a couple of days earlier, tonight’s gig had been confirmed as going ahead.
We arrived early and, after a bite to eat, joined the queue’s waiting in the slight drizzle for the doors to open. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before we were inside and in our seats – lower tier, front half of the auditorium, good view of the stage. Slightly disappointing was the fact that Elizabeth, who had been saying she was looking forward to the gig, admitted that she wasn’t really that excited. Personally, I think it was just the fact that there was quite a wait before the show started and she didn’t have her phone or Nintendo with her as, once it started, she definitely seemed to be having a good time.
I’m not going to admit to missing arena concerts, but there is a certain frisson when the lights go down and the crowd erupts. Strangely, tonight, this was followed by a recording of When I’m 64 – presumably a reference to Meat Loaf’s advancing age, even though he is actually 65…
The first half of the gig was, effectively, a “best of”, opening with Runnin’ For The Red Light which segued straight into Life Is A Lemon (And I Want My Money Back) which was followed, without a break, Deadringer For Love. The latter was a duet with long-time collaborator and backing singer Patti Russo – her voluminous black curls making her a near-clone of both Cher and previous backing singers. (She may even have been the backing singer the last time I saw him.) Meat Loaf himself didn’t so much look old as tired, his vocals slightly lacking clarity and definitely not as powerful as they once were, although some of that power returned during If It Ain’t Broke, Break It. The hand holding the microphone frequently shakes, at first it seemed that he was doing it deliberately, to produce some vocal effect. As the gig went on, though, he could frequently be seen holding that arm with his other to stop it shaking. Debbie wondered whether he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, but I can find no evidence. In fact, there are references to it being a deliberate act. During this set, the song were accompanied by videos on a giant screen at the back of the stage – repetitive imagery for the most part, although the video for Los Angeloser, featuring young women in tight police “uniforms” (with slightly less material than the real things) could, perhaps, have been described as slightly saucy. The Giving Tree was the only song of the set that I didn’t recognise as it comes from last year’s Hell In A Handbasket, an album I don’t yet have. (I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even know it existed until researching this post…) Its closing instrumental section led directly into a Justin Avery piano solo which, in turn, led into Objects In The Rearview Mirror. Sadly not only was this not introduced as “the best song Jim Steinman has ever written”, as it was last time I saw it performed live, but it was a cut-down version, missing the middle verse despite being accompanied by what seemed to be the video for the song which included the imagery for the missing lines. This was the first song that Meat Loaf sang while seated on a stool, delivering a passionate performance of an emotional song before upping the tempo again with Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire) which featured a superb saxophone solo from Dave Luther, with Meat Loaf playing up to the crowd, wondering why every time he indicated Luther, who had come to the front of the stage, he got a bigger ovation that Meat Loaf himself did. The crowd were only too pleased to play along. After just eight songs, but an amazing seventy-five minutes, the band left the stage with the video screen proclaiming that they would be back in fifteen minutes and that Bat Out Of Hell was coming.
As the lights went down for the second half of the set the video screen sprang to life again, this time with details of the Bat Out Of Hell album – release date, number of copies, etc. Avery once again tinkled the ivories before the stage burst into light and the band burst into the introduction to the title track. Meat Loaf wandered onto stage, dressed in ruff-fronted shirt and carrying a red handkerchief. As his vocals started he was joined by a mass sing-along from the audience. Russo was going wild in the background and a huge bat, replete with fiery red eyes was being inflated at the back of the stage. At least one roadie could be glimpsed scurrying around smoothing the kinks out of the giant, outstretched wings. Meat Loaf was giving it his all and the vocal power seemed to be back, even if he was being helped by most of the 15,000-strong crowd. The final note may not have been held for as long, or as steadily, as in the past, but it’s doubtful anybody cared. Between each song video snippets were played, Jim Steinman, producer Todd Rungren, Ellen Foley (the original “Stop Right There” girl), Karla DeVito (who sang the duet live and lip-synced Foley in the video), Max Weinberg (from the E-Street Band and drummer on Bat Out Of Hell) and others gave short recollections of their roles on the album. The screen was also used for the spoken word introduction of You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, the slightly fuzzy old footage (and big hair) invoking a feeling of nostalgia. During the song the tone of the vocals changed again, rightly becoming more emotive than powerful. The emotion continued as Meat Loaf once again took to a stool and dedicated Heaven Can Wait to the people of Boston, tearfully calling for “less hate and more love” in reference to the horrific events of a few days earlier and, still tearful, thanking the crowd for allowing him, a sixty-five-year old, to come back one more time. The song featured a lovely acoustic guitar section but the emotional content was spoiled slightly by the two Geordie women behind me who spent a good part of it, two-pint drinks in hand, chatting loudly about nothing in particular. It should come as no surprise that All Revved Up With No Place To Go came next, with Meat Loaf seemingly coping well with the ever-faster vocals. The next video snippet had Steinman explaining how he had been challenged to write a simple song, something along the lines of Elvis’ I Want You, I Need You, I Love You. The result was Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad the lyrics of which we were encouraged to listen to closely as it’s a story of two people, not necessarily just the one that everybody thinks. Tonight’s performance was extended to include an instrumental section, played while Meat Loaf rested against one of the raised sections on stage, giving the impression that he was using the break to catch his breath. The crowd was still fully behind him and nobody could have said that he wasn’t giving his all to the performance. It was just that his all wasn’t quite as much as it used to be. More video revelations followed, with DeVito remembering how Meat Loaf used to stick his tongue “right down” her throat during live performances of Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Russo returned to stage for the duet dressed in fifties style and the whole thing was just a bit more noddingly theatrical than I have seen it in the past, with another huge inflatable, this one a bit more saucy than the bat, appearing at the back of the stage. Before the final song, Meat Loaf himself explained that Bat Out Of Hell first entered the charts in April ‘78 at number 9, the highest position it would attain and that, two weeks before tonight, it had re-entered at the same position and stayed there this week. Full of emotion again he declared that the album belonged to the fans who are passionate about it and that he was happy with the fact that there are people who don’t like it because, in it’s own way, that is also bringing out the passion in them. A white grand piano had appeared on stage and, over a gentle introduction, he explained, once more in tears he explained that he thought that For Crying Out Loud was the greatest love song ever written and that he had cried almost every time he sang it. There was no denying the passion he put across during tonight’s performance.
After all that the encore could have been an anti-climax. However, after a teasing piano introduction and with the screen showing the Hammer-inspired video the band launched into I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), Russo again taking up duet duties, this time looking even more ravishing in black evening gown and long black gloves. Boneyard followed – I didn’t recognise it as it was an iTunes exclusive and B-side to Los Angeloser – another duet but this time with Avery before an instrumental section which included a brief burst of Freebird. More inflatables appeared dotted around the stage, this time caricatures of the various band members in the form of those long thin men you sometimes see outside car showrooms. During this section, Meat Loaf used a penis-shaped gun to fire t-shirts into the audience – thankfully Elizabeth wondered what was being fired and didn’t seem to notice the strange shape of the gun itself. A final quick burst of All Revved Up… brought the encore, and the night, to a close.
A few people have asked me, “How was Meat Loaf?” and I’ve given them all the same answer. I’m no boxing fan but think back to how you felt when you saw Ali light the flame at the 1996 Olympics. I didn’t quite feel the same way tonight, but I was getting there. As I’ve said, there can be no denying the passion and commitment that was on show tonight and it might be that the tired look was consequence of the illness that had swept the band, but I couldn’t help feel glad, in some ways, that this was a farewell tour. I’m glad I went, I’m glad I took Elizabeth for the experience and we all enjoyed it, but I’m also glad that he’s decided to call it a day and finish with as much dignity as possible.