On February 3rd, 1994 I went to see Meat Loaf (1947-2022) for the first time. I went with a large group of friends and I was super-excited for the show. When I was a kid Bat Out Of Hell was one of my favourite albums, certainly in the top five. Though I was too young at the time to really understand the story, I knew every word and I dreamed endlessly of being able to play the songs on the piano (which I still can’t do, come to think of it).
A perfectly encapsulated two-character rock musical that takes place entirely in the backseat of a car on a hot summer night with absolutely thunderous musical accompaniment, Bat Out Of Hell is a rock and roll triumph. Mr. Loaf had recently released Bat Out Of Hell II and it wasn’t doing too badly either. He had a hit from the album called Anything For Love that I thought was pretty cheesy and I knew he’d be playing it at the concert, but I was plenty excited for the rest of the show regardless.
It was my first (only?) time at Robert Guertin Arena, across the river from Ottawa in what was then called Hull, Quebec. It was a small, scruffy hockey rink peppered with drunks looking for fights and I was on the floor, general admission.
Strangely, there was a string quartet onstage playing light chamber music as an opening act. As the crowd settled in it was clear nobody was paying them much attention and why would they? What crazy person books a classical quartet to open for a classic-rock tenor?
And then Meat Loaf’s guitarist steps onstage with his guitar, literally kicking the string quartet out of their chairs while wailing on his distorted electric guitar. The ‘cellist and viola players grabbed their instruments and ran while the leather-clad guitarist knocked their music stands to the ground and took centre stage. Then our host entered, stage left.
I couldn’t believe it, breaking standard live rock protocol Meat Loaf opened with his new hit, and a ballad no less! You never open with your big song; your entry for the first song of the night is excitement enough for the crowd so it’s a great opportunity to play something new and unappreciated. Then you hit them with a good one for the second song. But no, he started with Anything For Love and he really, really milked it.
And I loved it! With a huge story and production built in to the performance I finally understood what the song was about. Turns out it’s a good song.
Launching into the rest of the concert Loaf pretty much alternated between a song from Bat Out Of Hell that everyone in the room knew by heart and loved and was the reason they had bought a ticket and had come to the show on a frosty winter night, and a song that wasn’t from Bat Out Of Hell. We would sway and reminisce during Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad and then go get a hot dog. Sing along to Paradise By The Dashboard Light and then who wants a beer?
Overall it was a great, great show half-full of expected joys and liberally peppered with some quality surprises.
On the way out I saw a bunch of lunkhead-looking security guys applying their trademark excessive force to some poor, unsuspecting (and in my mind, doubtlessly innocent) person and I (keeper of justice and other good things) jumped in to help. I was just about to get grabbed by one of the security dudes and drawn into the one-sided affray when one of my friends mercifully and forcefully grabbed me instead and got me the hell out of there. We left the security dudes and their hapless (and probably toothless) victim behind us and resumed our excited hubbubbing about the great show we had just seen.
RIP Mr. Loaf. Thanks for the memories.
We left the security to their beating…. classic!