Concert Review: BC Saw Meat Loaf Live
It never fails. If Meat Loaf makes an appearance on American Idol or in a commercial, I'll get a text or Facebook wall post from a friend or relative telling me about it, as my appreciation for the guy is apparently legendary among my loved ones. Ever since I first got a copy of Bat out of Hell II: Back Into Hell in the fall of 1993 (hey, 20 year anniversary!), I've considered Meat to be my favorite recording artist, and even though his last couple albums haven't been the best (due in part to a complete lack of any material by Jim Steinman, the songwriter responsible for pretty much every Loaf song you'd recognize, including all tracks on the first two Bat albums), I still get excited whenever he announces a new recording, and will still take a "money is no object" approach to any tours that might come my way.
But what if a new show isn't exactly in "my way"? What if he was taking up a residency say, 250 miles or so away in Las Vegas? Would I spend a week's pay on 2 tickets and a hotel room to see it, knowing that it might be my last chance (he recently turned 66, and he's been threatening to quit touring for years)? You're goddamn right I would!
A little backstory first. Back in 1999, I went to see Loaf during his VH1 Storytellers tour, and it was exciting because he'd play songs based on audience questions rather than the ones he usually played. You see, as a trained actor, Loaf has a strange approach to his live shows - he likens them to theater productions and thus doesn't care much for improvisation or spontaneity - his setlist is pretty rigid (at least one tour had it printed in the official tourbook, because it would be the same every night) and there is almost zero chance of him pulling an album track out once he stopped touring for that particular release. Basically, his shows are the live version of a greatest hits CD - all "your favorites" and a couple of new songs to entice a purchase, but the Storytellers tour would be different - songs like "More Than You Deserve" and his cover of Tom Waits' "Martha" would finally get a live performance alongside his usual standards ("Bat out of Hell", "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", "Anything For Love", etc.). I've been to six of his shows now, which means I've seen those songs performed six times - but I can easily list about 50 that I've never heard and probably never will.
Thus, I was excited about this Vegas show, dubbed Rocktellz and Cocktails, because it would have a bit of a Storytellers aspect to it and thus maybe a few surprises in the setlist. Armed with an iPad preloaded with multiple photo collections and video clips, the audience would be invited to ask questions and he would almost assuredly have a story to go along with it, scrolling through the device (which was linked to a giant screen on the stage) until he found the appropriate "answer," which would presumably be followed by the song in question if applicable. However, that wasn't REALLY the case - even those who did ask about particular songs would get the answer followed by the song he wanted to play anyway. One lady asked about the backstory to "Heaven Can Wait" (it always amazes me that people think he wrote the songs - Bat out of Hell is one of the few albums in history that put the songwriter RIGHT ON THE GODDAMN COVER) and he played "Paradise" in response.
But, it's Vegas, and I'm guessing I was one of the very few that drove five hours to see it (I was certainly among the very few under 40 years of age) - most folks were probably just looking for something to do, saw one of the many Meat Loaf billboards and taxi ads around town, and said to their spouse "Hey, wanna go see Meat Loaf? Beats Lance Burton." Indeed, scanning the crowd during "Paradise", I could see lots of folks singing along, but during one of the few "deep cuts" ("Out of the Frying Pan And Into The Fire", which was the very first song I ever saw him perform during the Bat II tour in 1994) there were only a couple of others following my lead and belting out every word. And that's from his only other big hit album - there would probably be a mass exodus to the bathroom if he were to pull out anything off of a commercial dud like 2003's Couldn't Have Said It Better.
So I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to have as many surprises as I hoped (even with the audience participation, I'm guessing the setlist is pretty much the same every night) and just enjoyed myself. Loaf's voice isn't as strong as it used to be, but he's got enough showmanship to make up for it, not to mention a terrific band and two very lovely ladies singing backup vocals and the female parts. Perhaps to give his voice a rest, he cut down his portion of "Anything For Love" while retaining all of the female parts, and even took a break while a highlight reel from his movies played on the screen, but the tradeoff is he can still hit those high notes at the end of "Bat out of Hell", and also isn't completely drenched in disgusting sweat by the time he has to make out with his leading lady during "Paradise".
And the audience portions are a lot of fun; Meat is an engaging storyteller, and even as a superfan I hadn't heard many of the stories he told (including one where his opening band set off some pyrotechnics and caused the club to close for the night, resulting in the cancellation of the headliner - a young Van Morrisson). And while the song portion for "Paradise" is always the same (that and "Bat" are the two songs he doesn't cut down; "Anything For Love" gets shorter every year it seems), his banter with the female (her name escapes me and I couldn't find it online - I apologize! She's very lovely and has a great voice, however) usually changes a bit to keep it fresh/funny. Plus he's included some Vegas flair, including dancing girls that come out a couple times (once as cheerleaders during "All Revved Up") and a staged bit where he talks about how he WON'T do any of that usual Vegas stuff as magicians and clowns run around behind him. It's not a very long show (about 1:45) compared to his usual performances, and the talking/interactive stuff reduces the number of songs (even when cut down, some of them are still pretty long), but I felt I got my money's worth, barely even minding that my accompanying novelty drink (a "Battering Ram", after a "Bat" lyric) cost 21 bucks and was mostly ice.
In short, if you're in Vegas looking for a fun show, I can highly recommend it if you know Meat from his hits (no "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" at my show, sadly - he actually didn't do any ballads at all now that I think of it) and enjoy the idea of blending music and theater in a non narrative form. And if you're a big fan of him and his albums, it's worth seeing what could be one of his last big shows. He's recording a new album (reportedly with Jim Steinman, which would be their first real collaboration since the 90s), but the chances of a full tour to accompany it are slim (and even if so it'd likely be in Europe and/or Australia, where he's always been a bigger draw than here in the States) - don't miss out. The Rocktellz show runs three nights a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) and runs until November 5th at the Planet Hollywood in Vegas. Check out the official site for more info and tickets.
P.S. Yes, for those who still haven't figured it out, the story before "Anything For Love" explains what "THAT" is.