I've been a fan of Meat Loaf since I was a kid in grade school, watching that video for "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights" on MTV again and again and again. (In the early days, I swear whoever had to run the machine late at night when they didn't have many videos would just throw it on whenever they had to take a bathroom break -- that or the Rush concert, which was also in heavy rotation for the first few years of the channel.) I loved the album, too, of course, first with pure turn-it-up pleasure and then perhaps with a snotty sense of irony when I couldn't decide whether it was bad/good or good/bad and then finally realizing it was trashy teenage pop bursting with high melodrama cause that's how teens felt and that the musicianship was top-notch and the lyrics delightfully over-the-top. Meat Loaf and creator/songwriter Jim Steinman were serious, yes, but they also had a sense of humor. (The lyric "And can't you see my faded Levis bursting apart?" may be the most honest, accurate and hilarious line about being a teenage boy in all of rock and roll.) Is it any more preposterous than the epic Phil Spector death ballads they clearly took to heart? Nope. I've since grown to love Jim Steinman in all his many incarnations and now, finally, with Bat Out Of Hell III hitting stores, I got to see Mr. Loaf in concert at the Palace on Broadway.
The show began at such a fever pitch, I was afraid it would skid off the road from its own reckless momentum. As my friend Jamie put it, "His music is all encores!" Indeed, he sang a quick burst of "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth" and "All Revved Up With No Place To Go" followed by the complete "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights." The vixen singing with him was a sexy little brunette in a cheerleader outfit and Loaf prowled the stage acting with all the Grand Guignol abandon of a silent film great -- head-butting the guitarists, ogling the ladies with a feverish, frightened abandon and singing his heart out, just like in that video. Actually, Meat Loaf paced himself well during the show, making full use of the instrumental breaks and a stage crowded with backup singers and a string orchestra to rest his voice. Maybe with a better sound mix (he sometimes got overwhelmed) and a better setting (you really don't want to be seated during a Meat Loaf concert but that's inevitable in a Broadway house) it would have been a classic night. As it was the crazy mix of people (including one guy all alone who danced so dorkily he made me feel cool, all while taking endless pictures with his digital camera until that got filled up and then he immediately pulled out his cell phone and kept on snapping) and the sheer overwhelming Wagnerian madness of it all was grin-inducing fun. And the finale -- "Bat Out Of Hell," of course -- was tremendous.
Suddenly, I was a kid again and surely that's one thing music does that nothing else -- not movies or books or the theater or painting or opera or tv or poetry -- can even attempt. If I watch "The Breakfast Club," I watch "The Breakfast Club" and enjoy it as a film on its own merits or as a time capsule or maybe even for the memories of people I saw it with. If I re-read a book, invariably it speaks to me in a different way than it did when I was young. But play a certain album or perform a certain song in concert and without warning I'm 16 years old again and driving my parents' car a little too fast and playing the radio so loud I can't even hear myself shouting along with every word. "Objects In The Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are" is one typically wordy song title from "Bat II." Indeed, sometimes the past seems to loom large and memories from 20 years ago are more immediate and fresh than whatever happened yesterday...especially when you're hearing a favorite song.