Meat Loaf as frontman, sex symbol and doomsday prophet

by Ryan Snyder

All the Meat, some of the guilt First rule of Meat Loaf fan club: You do not talk about Meat Loaf fan club. On the guilty pleasures scale of one to Hall & Oates, the other overweight lover ranks among the rangiest and most severe. A quick survey of the concert tees in the near-sellout crowd for his Sunday, Aug. 19 show at the Durham Performing Arts Center was a testament to that — Bruce Springsteen, Iron Maiden and Yes fans all came out in the open to commiserate in their shared geekiness for Marvin Lee Aday in the North Carolina stop for his Mad, Mad World tour.

At the age of 64 — yes, he came out to the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” piped over the house speakers — Meat Loaf is starting to look more like the Joe Don Baker of hard-rock singers than the doughy but charismatic lothario from his music videos. His Wagnerian pipes are getting rustier and his shtick was tatty even when Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell came out, but when Meat Loaf dips his mic back and starts singing the crap out of his skating-rink anthems, the guilt rushes over and you just try to sing along.

From the moment Meat Loaf stepped on stage Sunday night, he was ready to sell — that a portly “sex”-agenarian can still really get down, that people should still be on their feet four songs into a set that’s yet to include a Bat I or II song, or that his varsity letter jacket is the same size it was in high school. Likewise, his audience was desperate to be sold. The guitar he carried out for opener “Runnin’ for the Red Light (I Got A Life)” wasn’t seen again. Not, at least, in his hands, which were soon busy groping his backup singer and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” costar Patti Russo, or giving the “Are you not entertained?” pose after every few songs.

But still, he sold it. Paul Crook mounted the tension with arena-sized power chords as Meat Loaf strutted around like a disco stud during the 10-minute “Paradise,” and his breathtaking 12-string guitar solo was the only redeeming part of the incredibly hokey “Giving Tree,” one of the show’s handful of songs from his latest and inexplicably platinum album Hell In A Handbasket. That album was supposedly the platform for this Mad, Mad World tour, its calamitous themes ensconced in stock footage of the Greek riots and interwoven into an unfortunate projection-screen cameo by Chuck D, whose matter-of-fact flow clashed with Meat Loaf’s pitchstrangling. Either way, Meat Loaf the doomsday prophet was clearly not as popular as Meat Loaf the sing-along leader.

Of course, the crowd took that bait every time it was cast, only to have it jerked away by his often-wonky delivery. He shuffled the tempo for “Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)” and the still-effective “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” coming into the latter with a head full of steam and dropping it down a single time for a herky-jerky denouement. It was as if getting the songs out with as much bravado as possible was more essential than staying true to their time, or maybe the answer was  simpler. Maybe he was just out of breath.

Some moments fared better than others, though. “Los Angeloser” is as smart and sincere a pop song as adult contempo has seen in the past few years, but it also didn’t demand as much from Meat Loaf as the classic cuts did. Meanwhile, the encore was purposefully and delightfully sloppy, as he sang Todd Rundgren’s sped up version of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” in telling how the entire album was paced up a quarter beat to fit it onto a 50-minute record. As deeply flawed as his set can be, the understanding that Meat Loaf has always been a fundamentally flawed sex symbol puts it in a different perspective.

Maybe he can’t hit the high notes anymore and maybe he gets out of breath easily. He really sells it though.