Perhaps my strongest musical memory from childhood is of spending hours on end listening to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell albums. I spent hours with Bat 2 on my headphones, singing out of key at the top of my lungs and pissing my family off. I wish I had a recording of what that sounded like, because I’m pretty sure that’s what Meat subjected the world to on his Guilty Pleasure Tour a couple of years ago.
I have loved Meat Loaf’s overblown operatic music all my life (thank you Jim Steinman), but had never been to see him live. Once most of these guys hit their 60’s you figure it’s either time to fork out the cash, or maybe there won’t be a next time. He’d already retired once before, so my girlfriend and I handed over the big bucks (yes, it was a lot) and got our tickets to see Meat Loaf live.
The first sign that something wasn’t quite right was of course the AFL Grand Final debacle.
I was hoping that he’d just had a bad day and he’d pull it together for the tour. Maybe the foldback was crap, right? But there was something unsettling about the shaking hands and overuse of vibrato during the performance, like he was trying to force something that wasn’t there.
As time would tell, this was not a one-off bad show. I can’t speak for the whole tour (though by the accounts I’ve read, my experience was fairly indicative) but the Brisbane performance was akin to the musical equivalent of watching a car accident unfold: it’s unbearably horrible to witness, but you just can’t turn away.
The first songs showed some glimmer of hope, where he tackled ‘Hot Patootie’ & Bat Out of Hell’ without too many problems (although he clearly struggled during the latter and had to make a point of telling us he still sang it in the same key as the recording), but from there it was all downhill, culminating in a cringe worthy ‘duet’ with rapper Lil Jon on a video screen in one of the new songs. It was as if he couldn’t hear himself, or couldn’t actually tell that he was out of tune, but it was consistently like this for the entire show. I was one of the few who stayed to the end in the hope he’d pull it together, but unfortunately it never happened. I have never seen the Entertainment Centre empty during a show the way it did that night.
At about the midway point of the concert, when the audience began to stream to the exits, I had the realisation that if Meat hadn’t been there, the band would have been great to listen to. Patti Russo is a brilliant singer in her own right and could have carried the entire concert on her own. In fact, the only high points of the show were her lead vocal parts.
It ended up being the worst show I have ever seen, and left me unable to listen to any of his music for the next 18 months. In fact I’m only listening to some of his music now to write this piece. I went from being a huge fan to feeling cheated. Tricked by a pale imitation of past glories.
Meat Loaf (particularly the Jim Steinman-penned albums) gave me my love of epic song writing, bombast, performance art, and humour in music. Without this I would never have written something like ‘Breathe’. It’s as much in debt to Steinman’s work as it is to Slint.
To my knowledge, Meat Loaf has stubbornly refused to admit that he’s past it, however the evidence is plain to hear for anyone who’s been to see him live recently. Maybe there’s something to say for growing old gracefully, reinterpreting your old classics, doing the small acoustic shows and not shredding your vocal chords every night. Maturing. The obvious exemption is of course the Rolling Stones, but even they toyed with this idea when they did ‘Stripped’ in the 90’s.
I’d like to hope that one day Meat Loaf will come to this realisation and come back with a record that he can perform live, instead of opening himself up for ridicule. I’d certainly go to see him at an intimate show, performing new songs and pared-back versions of his hits. A musical direction to suit the limitations that have come with age.
Until then, we’ll always have Bat Out of Hell:
By Clint Morrow