Meatloaf – London O2 Arena – Wednesday 10th April 2013
There can be no disputing the massive global success of Bat Out Of Hell, nor it’s place in the pantheon of great rock n roll records. Released in 1977, it has sold some 45 million copies and been re-issued countless times, the latest of which currently sits at number 9 in the UK album charts. This position is, as Meatloaf himself points out, the highest it has ever attained in nearly 36 years. So, it remains somehow relevant even after all this time. It’s generation-bridging appeal is evident from the make-up of the assembled crowd. They literally span all ages from eight to eighty, and all walks of life, from the city-boys straight from the office to the ageing bikers in leather cuttes, back-patches and double denim.
I believe very strongly that the music we are brought up listening to always maintains a fond place in our hearts, and I suspect this may go some way to explaining the enduring appeal of Bat Out Of Hell. My wife remembers it as the album she would always put on during long car journeys, having been played it from a young age by her Dad. It was the first album I ever bought on vinyl, at the age of 12. I remember getting it home, putting it on and being amazed by the story-telling, the musicianship, the voice and the sheer ambition of it. I also remember my step-dad sticking his head round the door as I played it for the third time, not to tell me to put something else on, but just to smile, nod and wander off, satisfied. For many like me, it was a first introduction to rock and roll, be it through parents, personal choice or the radio, and carries immense significance as a result.
However, while I’m excited to hear the entire album performed in order, the caveat remains that Meatloaf is far from the performer he once was, the voice not the foghorn of times gone by and the years having taken their toll on a body which was never at the peak of physical fitness. His last few trips to these shores have been poorly reviewed, suggesting that this last jaunt, the aptly named ‘Last at Bat’ tour, may be a step too far. Saying that, if he feels he’s got some shows left in him and wants to sign off his career on stage by paying homage to his greatest work, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t earned the right.
Sadly, the early signs are not promising. The opening set, a collection of ‘greatest hits’ drawn from his extensive back catalogue, are marred by an atrocious sound mix, inexcusable for a show of this scale in such an arena. He may have a song called ‘Everything Louder Than Everything Else’, but this is no way to set-up a show. Patti Russo’s vocals are louder than Meatloaf’s, but that is inconsequential, as when the guitars come in all the instruments and vocals blend together into an indistinct soup of noise. This is both a crying shame, as he’s obviously brought an extremely capable band with him, but also infuriating for the paying listener. Couple this to the puzzling song choices, which feature several obscure album tracks as opposed to the advertised hits and you can see people getting tetchy. Even a couple nearby who are decked head-to-foot in merchandise from previous tours are tutting and shuffling their feet.
It’s not a total write off, though. The visuals, broadly speaking literal interpretations of the lurid lyrics, are fabulous, and when Russo comes to front of stage for ‘Dead Ringer For Love’, providing a theatrical foil for Meatloaf, the show kicks into gear. It loses it’s way quickly, though, as he fails to maintain the momentum, veering off into obscurity where perhaps more well-known songs would have been welcome. The entire set is rescued by ‘Objects In The Rear-View Mirror…’, which while preposterously titled and somewhat overwrought is delivered with such feeling as to be genuinely affecting.
At the interval, there’s an audible degree of displeasure. I overhear people voicing the same complaints about the choice of songs and the malaise at the sound desk and I hope also that the break will provide an opportunity to reset the levels.
Mercifully, it does, and when Meatloaf returns to perform the seminal album from start to finish, it’s as if you’re at another show. He sprints on, clad in the trademark frilly shirt and red silk handkerchief, as those opening power chords fill the arena, suddenly sounding bright, crisp and distinct. I’m instantly 12 again, dizzied by the music as the guitars trade licks, a giant bat inflates and looms over the stage and the assembled masses scream the chorus into the roof. He takes a few liberties with the melody, which plays merry hell with people’s ability to sing along, but on the whole, he nails it, wisely singing lower to keep within the limits of his range, only breaking into higher registers briefly and effectively. As he says later on, he has much to thank Jim Steinman for, but perhaps songs with a three-and-a-half octave range are not one of them.
A beautiful rendition of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ proves that there’s life in the old dog yet, just Meatloaf and a piano, haunting, tender, beautiful, the voice as clear as it’s been all night. ‘All Revved With No Place To Go’, Steinman’s hymn to those sticky teenage fumblings that promise so much and deliver so little, follows and is delivered with a frat-boy exuberance that belies his 65 years. There’s more epic balladeering in the form of ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’ before the traditional showpiece that is ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’, another ode to young lust and backseat sex. Again, Patti Russo takes centre-stage, channeling her inner Sandra Dee as the coquettish protatgonist and again ramping up the sleazy theatricality. It’s a well-worn and often seen performance, a mainstay of the show since the very earliest days, but it’s delivered here with as much verve as ever, even if the big man does look like he’s struggling by the end.
Perhaps just as well for him, the final tune is another ballad, ‘For Crying Out Loud’, which Meatloaf describes in a lengthy and emotional tribute as ‘the greatest love song he has ever heard’. He thanks the crowd for buying his records and giving him a life he could never have dreamed of and is genuinely moved to tears when he talks about Steinman and the privilege of having those songs to sing. What could have been toe-curling is actually rather touching, and while I suspect that he has trotted out the same spiel at every date of the tour, it would be a hard heart that doubted either his gratitude or sincerity.
As a seasoned veteran, he knows the importance of a curtain call, and a closing encore of ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’ rounds off the night. Visibly exhausted, sweating profusely and with a pronounced limp, Meat leads the band back on, where they join hands, take their bow and are gone. This has been billed as the final tour and if this is the last time we are to see him, it’s a fond farewell indeed.
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