An intimate look at the artist and his songs.
VH1, the music video station for those with a little gray in their hair, decided on an experiment. Since television isn't a very good medium for showing a huge concert event, and keep the same feel of the original, they went another route. Put the artist with a small group, and let them talk. Ask questions, and when the opportunity presents itself play a song. I'd have to say it worked with Meat Loaf. You are given the feeling that you're almost hanging out with him discussing his career and music. I won't say it was perfect for getting the music I wanted to listen to, but it was very nice. And on this DVD there are 53 minutes of footage that was edited out for the television show. A very nice addition from BMG Music.
I've followed Meat Loaf's career for some time. The Bat Out of Hell album was a staple during my young adulthood, combining some pretty tight rock and roll with an emotional side sure to please the ladies. One thing I was a bit surprised about him, which I knew before but was reinforced during this DVD, is how shy the man is. Unlike most front men in rock and roll, he doesn't have a huge ego. Actually he is as much actor as singer. He's done a fair amount of theater, and I found out awhile back that he feels the need to play a role to sing. When you see him live he isn't Meat Loaf singing in front of you. He's the person in the song, immersed in the role. This is how he gets past his shyness. This aspect of his personality is shown off quite explicitly during Storytellers where he has to play the role of the teenager in lust to perform "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," one of my favorite songs of his. He's actually making out with his backup singer during the song, and set a stage with a couple from the audience to recreate the experience as well.
Performance or show wouldn't be the right term to describe what you see on the disc. It's more of an informal gathering, with Meat Loaf as the storyteller, giving tidbits from his career and answering questions. When a question or story leads into the background of a song, he stops and his band begins playing it. There are actually only 10 songs in this 100-minute disc; the rest of it is such talk. I very much enjoyed listening to it. Of course when the songs do come, they are tight and well done, with a couple stops in the middle for conversation or to reprimand the drummer on one occasion. Gave a real unrehearsed feel, but from a band who have been together and done that before.
The most important aspect of any musical experience is, of course, the sound. No worries here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is superb. The stage is wide and deep, and quite spacious, perhaps even more so than the venue would predict. The music bounces from the rear speakers though, which would fit with the small room. The surrounds are also used for audience dialogue and ambient sound. You get the feeling from the sound that you are actually in the audience, right up front.
The songs run the gambit of Meat Loaf's career, from the early stuff on "Bat Out of Hell" to some of his musical theater and his latest hits. Being the old dude that I am, of course I liked the old stuff best.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The video didn't fare so well as the sound, unfortunately. Of course it was full frame since it was produced for television, and considering the venue that was fine. But the image was very soft. And there was a fair amount of artifacting and pixelation. There was even a fair bit of grain. This is not to say that it was really bad. It looked quite a bit like regular television off my satellite, just not up to the high expectations the DVD format allows us. And it looked positively beautiful compared to Blue Oyster Cult: Live 1976 and was less distracting than the edge enhancement in James Taylor: Live at the Beacon Theatre, both of which I've reviewed recently.
The extra content was a bit disappointing as well. There were bios of the band members for example, but no bio for Meat Loaf himself! Perhaps they thought the disc itself told his story, but not well enough for me. I knew quite a bit about him just from being a music aficionado that I didn't get here. There were song lyrics in the extra content, but I would have far preferred they be able to be accessed as subtitles during the songs. There were no subtitles at all, unfortunately. There is supposedly DVD-ROM content as well, though, which I couldn't access.
Lastly, and this was my biggest complaint, is that this was simply a rehash of what was done for television. I realize that may have been the point, but I would really hope when VH1 does this again they do something with the DVD in mind. What I'm getting to is the fact that when a song was too long to fit into the eight-minute to commercial time cycle, they had to stop the music. The song I mentioned above, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" runs 15 minutes. To have it stop in the middle and have Meat Loaf say "The rest of this song after these commercial messages" was jarring to say the least. That single thing made me upset more than anything else. My suggestion is to get an alternate version of songs done in their entirety for the DVD next time. My other smaller complaint about using the television format is that basically they shot what they shot with the intention of editing for television, which they did. The extra 53 minutes are nice, but are punctuated with diversions that were clearly not meant to be aired. Just a little editing next time, guys.
If you're a fan of Meat Loaf, as I am, this disc deserves at least a rental. The music on it was very nice, with the one exception I mentioned, and makes a welcome addition to my music library. But I'm not sure I'd want to sit through all the talk on repeated viewings. Still very nice, just not something I'd listen to the 4th time. The chapter stops can help you with that, but there are still only ten songs. I'll have to look and see if a more music-oriented concert disc is available.
Meat Loaf is a great performer, and I will always enjoy his music. I enjoyed the time I spent on the disc listening to him. BMG is given credit for a great soundtrack, and cautioned about the care given the video transfer for future releases. VH1 is commended on a nice idea for television, but cautioned that DVD is a different medium, and they need to think of that when they are doing their sets and editing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BMG Music
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