Meat Loaf, Royal Albert Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

There's life in the old bat yet
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The Independent Culture

Bat Out of Hell is as close as rock music has got to a Hollywood blockbuster. Released at the tail end of 1977, the over-the-top album, created by Jim Steinman and voiced by Meat Loaf, caught the imagination of British fans when a clip was shown on The Old Grey Whistle Test at the start of 1978. It has now sold 34 million copies worldwide.

The Svengali-like Steinman and Marvin Lee Aday, alias Meat Loaf, the former parking-lot attendant from Texas with the operatic voice, spent the best part of the next 15 years fighting lawsuits and each other, but somehow managed to put differences aside for a sequel. Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, released in 1993, topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and shifted 15 million units.

Inevitably, we now have Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, and this one-off concert. Steinman is conspicuous by his absence, his contributions to the third instalment coming from his catalogue, while the likes of Nikki Sixx, the Mötley Crüe bassist, chip in, and Desmond Child - best known for his work with Kiss, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith - produces.

Not that any of this worries the fans of what has become one of rock's most potent brands. The merchandising stall is doing brisk business and the audience stands as the female string section - in black evening gowns - and the six-piece band, led by the bassist Kasim Sulton, walk on. The musicians are all wearing American-style football shirts, and so is Meat Loaf, fittingly enough, since he acquired his nickname after treading on the foot of his high-school football coach. Almost everyone is already singing along to "All Revved Up with No Place to Go" and "Paradise By the Dashboard Light".

Meat Loaf wasn't in The Rocky Horror Picture Show - stage show and film - for nothing, and hams it up with the vocalist Aspen Miller (who takes the part that Ellen Foley sang on the original). She leaves the stage to "slip into something a little more comfortable" - fetching pyjamas, in this instance - while the frontman supposedly takes a call from Brad Pitt (a nice touch is the "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" ringtone), and the courtship plays out to its inevitable conclusion.

"You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" provokes a Pavlovian response from the crowd, although, to a trained ear, the disparate elements that Steinman drew from - Phil Spector, The Who, Bruce Springsteen - still sound like a Frankenstein experiment gone horribly wrong.

Meat Loaf remains a dedicated salesman, looking out in wonder at the adoring fans, his blue eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, the whites probably visible all the way to the top of the Albert Hall. He rubs the guitarist Paul Crook's peroxided hair and launches into "I'd Do Anything for Love", and then "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than You Think", also from Bat II, which closes the first half.

When they return with "The Monster is Loose", Meat Loaf is wearing his trademark white shirt and black waistcoat, and fiddling with a red handkerchief tied to his mike stand. He bangs his chest with his fist, he shakes his hands spasmodically, he emotes, he is truly in his element. Even with the drummer John Miceli pummelling his kit, the strings come through on the ominous "Blind as a Bat" - how long did they wait to use this title? - the new album's tour de force and a match for the finale of Bat Out of Hell.

Todd Rundgren, who produced and played guitar on the original Bat, and arranged the vocals on the next two, has often compared Meat Loaf's grandiose, grandiloquent music to Queen, with good reason. And even if "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" was originally sung by Celine Dion, and parents are now bringing their children along to gigs, the Bat franchise shows no sign of abating. You have been warned.

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