At 63 the Loaf's voice may have gone stale, but on the evidence of this typically theatrical show, crusty he is not
Even devoted Meat Loaf fans would admit that the heavyweight rock legend is past his peak live. The albums continue to do the business – Auto-Tune and a big-name producer will work wonders – but recent UK gigs have attracted damning reviews.
The worst was possibly by Scottish ITV network STV, who likened the vocalist to ‘a punch-drunk walrus stapled to the floor that has been forced to sing Meat Loaf songs until he’s fed a kipper or two’. And so it is with a heavy heart that this Bat out of Hell acolyte takes his seat in an undersold Odyssey Arena on one of the coldest evenings in recent memory.
Confronted with a half-empty venue and temperatures in double minus figures, you would have forgiven the Loaf for hopping straight back into his private jet and flying home to his Southern California mansion, but the old pro is determined to give Belfast a dose of rock ‘n’ roll theatre.
There are large skulls in the four corners of the stage, a white grand piano atop a spiralling staircase, and a giant, inflatable bat with glowing red eyes for ‘Bat out of Hell’ – played, surprisingly, third in the set. No-one does drama like Meat Loaf.
In many respects, this is an enjoyable show. The seven-piece band is on top form, the setlist ticks all the boxes and Meat Loaf himself seems in good spirits, if clearly tired. It’s the last night of a lengthy European tour, after all, and the man is 63 – or ‘sexty-three’, as he puts it.
When his voice fails him – as it does spectacularly on ‘You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)’, ‘Two out of Three Ain’t Bad’ and ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – Loaf at least has his offbeat sense of humour to fall back on.
The larger-than-life rocker moans comically about the weather, and takes a pop at anyone who hasn’t listened to his new album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear – which, in an unprecedented move for an artist of Loaf’s stature, is given away free here tonight.
Later, he reminisces about his first concert in Northern Ireland, at the Antrim Forum in 1982, praising the loyalty of Ulster audiences. He also jokes about his current physical state: ‘If you ever play in a band and decide to play 'Bat out of Hell' as your third song, then let me tell you, it will make you feel 63 years old!’
Musically, the strongest moments are a unifying performance of ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’, with the crowd hanging on every sax break, and the epic ballad ‘I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)’ – still a corker 17 years after it reached number one in 28 countries.
A cluster of tracks from Hang Cool Teddy Bear also hit the spot, working well alongside the vintage material. Album opener ‘Peace on Earth’ perhaps best captures Loaf’s mood, with its crooned refrain: ‘I just want to go home.’
Elsewhere, we are treated to a fun rendition of ‘Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)’, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the rarely played ‘Dead Ringer for Love’, with backing vocalist Patti Russo belting out Cher’s part. You just wish the Loaf’s singing voice was still up to the job. At best, this is a nostalgic romp through one of the finest back catalogues in rock. At worst, it’s like listening to Elvis – two weeks after he died.