Then the curtain dropped and Meat Loaf himself walked solemnly on from the wings, in a frock coat, black velvet bell bottoms, exorbitant lacy cuffs and a hair style which looked as though half a dozen rodents had camped on his head, trailing their tails behind him. He stood centre stage in silence, waiting for the applause to die. Then, without warning, he started singing the chorus of 'I Would Do Anything For Love', the song that topped the charts for six weeks earlier this year mainly because it takes that long to finish.
Never mind building things up slowly, this was the Indiana Jones movie approach: start with a smash-bang-wallop of a climax and don't let off the pace. 'I Would Do Anything' set the tone perfectly. Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf's song- writer with whom he has just had a reconciliation after a nine-year divorce, knows how to write an instant rock anthem, and this has all the ingredients: the sudden soft bits, the three false endings, the tempo slowing before the grandiose terrace-chant of a chorus in which the words convey no apparent meaning.
But whatever the genius involved in creating the recipe, it needs a chef. And when it comes to cooking up a corker of a rock anthem, Meat Loaf is in the Escoffier class. Boy, does he put a lot of himself into a song: never has a performer sweated so much for his art. It has been revealed that the King of Lard has lost 50lbs from his substantial frame recently. The question is: was that the weight loss after a whole concert, or just the first half hour?
Meat Loaf appears to be a man physically incapable of doing anything by half measures. At Wembley he strained at the microphone, panted out the words, tore across the stage, charging up to the front row and bellowing in their faces: you could see them bending away from him, blown back by the force of his presence. And this was still in the first number.
To start with one epic was cool. To go straight into another showed considerable confidence in what you had in storage. But no sooner had Meat dragged the last spot of emotion from his opening gambit than he was off into 'You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth'. For this he was joined by Patricia Lucelle, taking the Cher role as his battle-of-the-sexes sparring partner. Lucelle, in a variety of figure- friendly costumes, matched him note for note, flirt for flirt. But she couldn't touch him when it came to the role-playing.
This is Meat Loaf's strength. He not only possesses a voice which exhibits a power that Sizewell B would have difficulty matching, but he knows exactly how to play the rock legend. After all, before Jim Steinman discovered him, he was a Broadway performer, fleshing out a part in the original version of The Rocky Horror Show. So when he sang Steinman's nursery rhyme lyrics - 'There's always something magic; that's when rock and roll dreams come true' - he looked as if he was delivering the final soliloquy in Macbeth. Nothing he did here was wasted. Even when he went to the back of the stage for a breather and a swig of Evian, he was emoting. And when it came to saying 'Hello, London' he gave a five-minute luvvy of a speech, thanking us very, very, very much for all our support and blubbering about what a privilege it was playing to people who meant so much to him. Heaven knows what he said in Glasgow.
The one we had been waiting for came after about two hours of such delight, immediately after a stirring version of 'Heaven Can Wait' - in which the Meat voice was accompanied only by a piano tinkling away in a manner ominously reminiscent of 'Lick My Love Pump' - and a song with a chorus cheeky even by Steinman's lyrical standards - 'Objects In The Rear-View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are'.
If you are going to base a career on variations of one song, 'Bat Out of Hell' isn't a bad choice. Here he delivered a stupendous version: the first false finish came after only 30 seconds, another pit-stop was slipped in after six minutes. But he wasn't finished booming, jumping, pogoing; 10 minutes in you thought, at this rate he'll still be on when the morning comes.
When it was finally over, Meat couldn't leave, staying on stage while his band took refreshment, conducting the applause like a sweat-enveloped pantomime dame. As pyrotechnics exploded and glitter rain poured on the front row, he informed us that 'he didn't want none of you out there ever to stop rocking'. With Meat Loaf around there isn't much danger of that.
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