By David Schultz
In 1977, Meat Loaf was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, figuratively and literally. The 250-pound-plus singer's Bat Out Of Hell, with words and music by Jim Steinman, was and still is one of the best selling debut albums ever. With his roots in theater, Meat Loaf's voice perfectly complimented Steinman's Wagnerian Broadway-like compositions. Bat Out Of Hell would be the high-water mark of the symbiotic relationship between the gregarious Meat Loaf and the idiosyncratic Steinman that blessed and haunted their musical lives. In the wake of the album's success, a rift developed between the two that left both men's careers floundering. The overwhelming success of 1993's Bat Out Of Hell II, which rescued Meat Loaf and Steinman from impending obscurity, only served to confirm that each is the Ying to the other's Yang. I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the time between the two albums was not misspent by Meat Loaf: he was one hell of a Little League coach.
Almost 30 years after his debut on Broadway in Hair, a play in which he claimed the director ordered him to not appear nude for fear of scaring the audience, Meat Loaf returned to New York City for a three night run at the Beacon Theater. Dressed in black and donning shades, the now-svelte Meat Loaf prowled the stage with the poise and menace of a Tarantino character. Understanding completely what his audience came to see, Meat Loaf kept the show rooted in the nostalgia of both Bat Out Of Hell albums. There was also a glimpse of the future as Meat unleashed the Jim Steinman-penned Only When I Feel. The receptive audience warmly received the announcement that the cut will be on the upcoming Bat Out Of Hell III.
It would be grossly unfair to expect Meat Loaf to belt out two hours worth of Bat Out Of Hell songs like he did 30 years ago. He came damn close though. The live arrangements allowed Meat Loaf ample opportunity to rest his voice so he can timely let it loose at the right moments. His two back-up singers, C.C. and Patricia Russo, did a superb job of subtly protecting Meat's voice and, when necessary, the well-versed audience added in the lyrics, just as excited to join in the fun. Don't be disheartened: by no means did Meat Loaf hold anything back, often bending himself in two to get the requisite power and passion into his voice. By the time the set closed with Bat Out Of Hell, Meat obviously left everything on the stage.
Meat Loaf gleefully played out the theatrical nature of Steinman's songs on stage throughout the show. His backup singers picked his pockets, his guitar players wouldn't let him solo during his own encore and, although it seemed as scripted as the WWE, God help the person who doesn't stand and sing during You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth. With a sizable contribution from Patricia Russo, the live rendition of the hormone-fueled Paradise By The Dashboard Light contained funnier comedy, livelier romance and infinitely better acting than any Freddie Prinze Jr. movie.
The third of the show that consisted of non-Bat Out Of Hell material was notably weaker. While the band was exceptional, without Steinman's arrangements, the songs were mismatched with the power and majesty of Meat Loaf's voice. A notable exception was the encore of Mercury Blues, the perfect vehicle for the band to loosen up and jam.
The 2005 tour includes all the essential songs from Bat Out Of Hell I & II. No one need worry over sitting through an hour of tepid songs just to get a quick reading of Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Always one to respect his fans, Meat Loaf knows that his audience will respect the new but will revere the old. The only drawback is that by the time the show is finished you truly are All Revved Up With No Place To Go.