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Meatloaf - Why Bat Out of Hell deserves an orchestra


Feature: Jack Foley

IT SEEMS ridiculous, if you think about it, that it’s taken Meat Loaf this long to record a collaboration with an orchestra.

After all, it’s difficult to think of an artist whose music would be more ideally suited to such a treatment.

Meat Loaf’s music has all the ingredients for such a marriage – the grandiosity, the sweeping emotions, the change in moods, the courage to defy convention.

The singer admits as much himself.

"The songs are crying out for this, really," he states. "They’re very long, very dramatic and melodramatic - even operatic. So of course they’re perfectly suited to being played with an opera."

If the live CD seems like it’s been a long time coming, you can rest assured that it feels exactly the same way for its creator.

In 1976, when the young Meat Loaf was recording his monumental Bat Out Of Hell set with writer Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren, the writer and singer discussed the possibility of recording the seven songs with an orchestra, but the idea was shelved because of scheduling and budgeting constraints.

So, Bat Out Of Hell emerged in 1977 without any accompaniment; its compositions have had to wait a further 27 years for this augmentation.

"I’m sure when people hear it they will realise that it’s worth the wait," predicts Meat Loaf.

The live CD was recorded with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, under the guidance of arranger/orchestrator/conductor Keith Levenson.

The performance was filmed over two nights at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena – normally home to the Australian Open tennis tournament - on February 20 and 22, 2004.

Ask Meat Loaf if he himself is classically trained and he’ll tell you: "Yes – I’m classically trained in softball. I’m very good at softball!"

Aside from a full orchestra, the CD features a boy’s choir on Testify, a flying couch, a troupe of dancers ("I didn’t realise they’d be so scantily clad," reveals the singer, who got the idea from watching Justin Timberlake at the Manchester Evening News Arena) and two hours and 25 minutes of blood red, sweat-furrowed Meat Loaf rock 'n' roll.

"It’s strange because when I was up there singing during these shows I couldn’t really hear what the orchestra were playing," recalls the charismatic front man.

"There’s so much for me to do up there, that I’m really concentrating so hard on performing and not on what’s being played.

"And not only that, but the ear piece that I wear means that I couldn’t hear them anyway. So it wasn’t really until I heard the final live mixes from the concerts that I realised how great the songs sounded with the orchestra playing them.

"People often ask me if I get tired of playing the songs from Bat Out Of Hell, and the answer is, 'No, I never get tired of playing those songs'," he continues.

"That’s because they’re classic songs, and every night feels like it’s the first time I’ve ever sung them.

"But I have to say that the way they sound here is just unbelievable.

"Songs like Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad and For Crying Out Loud sound great. It’s all very epic stuff.

"I don’t know how I imagined it sounding before we embarked on this, but I don’t think I could have envisaged it sounding any better than it did."

With a full production and sold-out notices hanging outside for both nights’ performances, Meat Loaf remembers the two concerts as being nights to remember, both for himself and for the audience.

"I’m very serious about performing," he stresses. "I get pissed off when I see someone play and they expect me as a member of the audience to respond to what I’m seeing just because of the fact that I’ve bought a ticket to the show. That really pisses me off.

"I’m not like that at all. I think it’s my job to bring the audience into the show, to involve them and to give them something to cheer about – not just the fact that I’m up there on stage.

"And I work very hard to make sure people go home satisfied, that they’ve seen something special. It’s my job to give people a good night for their money."

And did the thousands of people of people in Melbourne who saw Meat Loaf with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra have a good night?

"Damn right, they did," concludes the singer.

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