Monday, September 3, 2012

Meat Loaf (What It Was Like to See Him Live)

Do you have a hero? Or an idol? Oftentimes you find a person like this, whether they're a writer, a musician, a singer, a sports icon, whatever they may be. Someone you look up to, maybe someone who's personal narrative you find relatable, someone who you look to for guidance and comfort, through what they've said in interviews, or through the mottos and/or philosophies they operate under, or through the things they've created.

     Growing up, Meat Loaf was always a presence in my house. Bat Out of Hell was always an album that made my mom smile when she wanted to have a couple drinks and have some fun. So I grew up listening to "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and "You Took The Words Right Outta My Mouth" and by the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, I was beginning to really become a Meat Loaf fan myself. "Bat Out of Hell" did it for me. A ten minute long epic journey. An entire opera, as it were, in and of itself. Being the hopeless romantic that I still am, I had always thought about it as a love song, but it was fun to watch Jim Steinman talk about it on Behind the Music and talk about the gothic irony and how he wanted to write the greatest car crash song ever. For my money, he succeeded. And even though it has always proved a turbulent and fragile partnership, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf are a great and rare musical and artistic pair.

     When I was in eighth grade, I was facing personal issues. This was about the time that Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, came out, and I got it that Christmas. When I put it in for the first time and heard the almost apocalyptic intro to "The Monster Is Loose" build into these angsty and angry lyrics and I fell in love with Meat Loaf all over again, and I knew (not that I needed the reassurance) that he was as good as he ever was, if not better (not to neglect that he surrounds himself with great musicians).

     And I spent many dark nights in corners listening to this album. It was my comfort and my solace. As I knew that Meat Loaf had a rough life growing up, and I saw all that he come to be, I'd sit there and listen to his music, and know that everything was going to be okay.

     Since then, Meat has released two more C.D.s and done some more touring. On his most recent, the "Mad, Mad World Tour" I knew that I had to see him. Now a student in college, now working part time, now was the time (neglecting the fact that some people around me said this may be my last chance to see him). I bought a ticket 3/4s the way back (all the most expensive tickets were sold) on the first floor (because I'm afraid of heights) and practically dead center of the hall. I was going to have to travel three and a half hours to Nashville, Tennessee to see Meat, and it was going to be worth every mile traveled.

      It turned out that Meat was playing at a very special auditorium.

     I was going to see him perform at the Union Gospel Tabernacle. A church that can seat up to 2,362 people. But what is special about this auditorium? It was made by a riverboat captain and Nashville businessman, yes. It was made for an influential revivalist, yes. But Union Gospel Tabernacle's greatest claim to fame, for those who don't know, is that from 1943 -1974 it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

     And then there is the Neverland Express, the band that tours and records with Meat Loaf, and its current line up is almost as impressive as the venue in which I was lucky enough to watch them perform in. The lead guitarist, Paul Crook, has also been the lead guitarist for Anthrax. The drummer, John Miceli has worked or toured with such acts as Adam Lambert and such bands as My Chemical Romance, Blue Oyster Cult and Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. Then there are the terrific female lead vocals of Patti Russo, who has worked with groups such as Queen and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The rest of the band includes Randy Flowers (Guitars/Vocals), Danny Miranda (Bass), Justin Avery (Piano/Vocals) and Dave Luther (Saxophones/Keyboards/Vocals) who were all amazing, regardless of whether or not I could find other work they may have done.

     Now you've been reading for this long and you still don't know, how was the show?! Well, I arrived about an hour early. So I sat in the pew for about an hour, taking pictures of the stage and waiting for all of the musical deliciousness to start.

    And on time, they did, but it wasn't what I expected at all (especially since I looked to see if this was going to be the case and found nothing to suggest it). There was an opening act, her name was Katrina. And I'm not complaining. She is a singer/songwriter with a license to practice law in California (not to mention she looked stunning). It was a very simple set. Randy Flowers played acoustic electric and she sang.

      Speaking between songs about each song and what they were about. She was sweet, and after forty shows, was very aware that the crowd was there to see Meat Loaf, still, she gave a great performance, interacted with the crowd, and said she'd be around after the show to talk, take pictures and sign stuff.

     And then another long wait came as we waited for the stage to be set up for the main attraction.

     But finally, after what felt like an eternity, the lights dimmed. The band came out to "Runnin' for the Red Light (I Gotta Life)" without introduction (as if they would need it) and played straight into "Dead Ringer For Love". I don't think there was a moment from "Dead Ringer For Love" that I wasn't on my feet singing (read: obnoxiously screaming) the lyrics as best as I knew them.

     And I knew I was home when the chorus to "If It Ain't Broke, Break It" came. I'd already realized I was at a Meat Loaf concert, I saw him there in front of me, but by time I was singing the chorus to "If It Ain't Broke" I was not only seeing my idol and hero do what he does, but I was at a music concert, the music was inside of me, and I love music.

     Next was "Stand In The Storm", complete with a Lil' Jon video, which, even though it isn't my favorite, I still stayed standing up and rocking to.

     And then it was time to take a moment to listen to Meat Loaf the storyteller, as he told us about how life comes with good and bad, getting applause to the ideas that sometime you'll have bad that will last for a week, or a month, concluding that bad always comes with good.

      He talked about doing anything for love, from taking out the trash, to doing the dishes, to taking your Love out to a nice dinner. This story (which also included Meat talking about his being a sex god, and the story of how "Paradise" came about) ultimately segued into "Paradise By The Dashboard Light". One of my favorites. And after all of these years, this song still comes with all the theatrics. From 'parked down by the lake and there wasn't another car in sight' to 'what's it going to be boy? Come on! I can wait all night! What's it going to be boy? Yes or no?'

     And including jokes. "This is our very first date." Meat Loaf pointed out to Patti, to which Patti quickly retorted, "But honey, you're sixty-four, I might not get a second date out of you."

     All together "Paradise" was beautiful, it included the baseball announcer track, costume (read: jacket and hat) changes, and I think some of that gothic, tongue-in-cheek humor that Steinman originally put into it.

     After "Paradise" they played "Living On The Outside" and "Los Angeloser" off of Hang Cool Teddy Bear. Both songs that I really like, and that I really enjoyed seeing live. But they stood little chance of standing out for what had preceded them, and for what was about to follow.

     The eighth song on the set list was "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" Now, I could tell you that this is one of my favorite Meat Loaf songs, and that would be true, but it wouldn't do this story justice at all. Meat Loaf and Patti had sung through the song, and had done so beautifully. I sung along to every word and soaked up every moment. I was on a high. But what happened when Meat Loaf asked the crowd to do a chorus of "You took the words right out of my mouth - It must have been while you were kissing me." is the story that I'll probably tell for the rest of my life. First of all, that was the most powerful chorus I'd ever been a part of, it was moving for me just to have that many people around me, completely engrossed and singing in unison with me. But then something happened that I never expected, and I just stood and watched it unfold.

     Meat Loaf stopped the show, got the band to stop playing, got the crowd to stop singing and said something to the effect (I'll never get it verbatim) of: "It's too bad you can't see this bottom floor down here, balcony, it's too bad! Because they're all on their feet."

     He went on to talk about the spirit of the place, and how his grandfather was a preacher, and how his grandfather had told him to always give 100% from his heart. Joking at one point, "He'd say to me, he'd say 'balcony.' No, he wouldn't say that."

     Though joking a little bit, Meat Loaf seemed sincere in his message to give a 100%, something that he has done throughout his life and his career. And when the show started back up and we got back to the chorus, it was better than ever.

     But the best part was being on the main floor. Having been on the main floor, that moment when Meat Loaf complimented the main floor for it's dedication and passion, it felt like approval from him, this legend, this idol, this hero. This person who had, until tonight, been almost but a myth to me. I know he wasn't stopping the show to compliment or credit me or anyone specifically on the first floor, but rather to kind of reprimand the balcony, but it was still a great moment for me.

     And when we got back to singing the chorus, Meat Loaf's eyes crazed as he kept pointing at his heart and then to the crowd, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced, all of these people singing in unison.

     After that he did the "Giving Tree" and "Mad Mad World", which I used as time to kind of rest, except for the chorus of Mad Mad World.

     The next song he dedicated to his best friend, as he put it in his own words. Mentioning that he gave a speech at this person's induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. The song was "Rock and Roll Dreams Come True" and Meat Loaf claimed it to be Jim Steinman's favorite song. It was a grand moment, not as solemn as it could have been, as we all let the drummer tell us what to do. I loved that performance, I love that song, and I love that Meat Loaf dedicated it to Steinman. And then I heard the sound, the music, the cosmic choir that I'd been waiting to hear, the coalescing of drums and guitar and piano that signified everything I'd ever hoped for in a Meat Loaf concert.

     "Like a Bat out of Hell, I'll be gone when the morning comes!"

     This was catharsis mixed with baptism. I was perfectly accurate when I had text my friends before the show and said, "It's fitting that this used to be a church, because I'm about to get baptized in Rock N' Roll."

     And I did.

     "And wherever you are, and wherever you go, there's always going to be some light."

     I was jumping up and down, screaming the lyrics, throwing my hands in the air, grabbing the bench and almost collapsing to the floor, only to bring myself back up.

     And then, as abruptly as it had started, at the peak of my adrenaline. The last notes of "Bat" played and the entire band walked off stage without a word.

     I think the crowd had a collective "Oh hell no!" moment. As there was stomping, beating on the pews in front of us and clapping, as well as cheering and yelling. It was loud and beautiful. You would have thought we were going to bring the place to the ground, and I almost gave up hope. Even thinking when the pianist  and the drummer came out and started playing classical music, that they were just offering us something to lick our wounds to as we walked out the door.

     But then I heard something from the piano, and I cheered like I was watching the under-dog hero of an old gladiator movie getting up after suffering what seemed to be the defeating blow.

     And the rest of the band came back out, and the crowd cheered to see Meat Loaf again.

     "And I would do anything for love."

     You could feel the crowd collectively melting as this version of this Meat Loaf classic quickly moved into the duet, which was beautiful in and of itself.

     After "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" Meat Loaf brought over a stool and as he sat down he said, "I'm stalling, and sucking at it."

     They were having issues with an acoustic electric they wanted to use for the next song. Meat Loaf said, "You know, I'm sixty-four."

     A few of us cheered to which Meat responded, "No, no, fuck that!"

     And then he covered his mouth and bowed his head. "I can't believe I just did that."

     After shaking his head for a moment he said, "I promised my wife I wouldn't do that anymore."

     Apparently his wife had asked him to try to stop using 'fuck' on the road. And to emphasize his wife's concern, Meat Loaf mentioned a show in Long Island, New Jersey where he said it seventy-four times. He said after the show the drummer came backstage to his dressing room and "punched me as hard as he could... on the arm."

     Apparently on this tour he'd only said it about six times and on this he said, "You know, six out of forty ain't bad."

     And the crowd cheered.

     Meat looked at the guitarist, who shrugged, they'd been beaten by technology for the moment, and were going ahead with a regular electric guitar. Before starting "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" Meat Loaf told another story. Apparently there was an actress who challenged Jim Steinman, saying he couldn't write a song as simple as Elvis's "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." and Jim, telling the actress that she was probably right, wrote "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad".

     They played "Two Out of Three" straight into a medley of "Boneyard/All Revved Up With No Place to Go". And like with "Bat Out of Hell" had me singing and screaming and clapping until they (in my mind) abruptly left the stage.

     But this time I felt more comfortable leaving. I knew the night was over, and I was more than pleased.

     Meat Loaf is my favorite singer. "Bat Out of Hell", which is an album they played four songs off of, has my vote for greatest album of all time. And that was the greatest show I've seen to date.

     I'm so grateful I was able to see Meat Loaf perform live, I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.

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