Let me get this out of the way to start: Meat Loaf was a rock star years before I was even born.
That may not be saying a lot, but even with classics like "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "Anything for Love," the Loaf never had the same influence on my generation as, say, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. But after seeing him perform Tuesday at Darien Lake Performing Art Center, I'm struggling with my preconceived notion that Meat Loaf was simply a rock 'n' roll novelty.
True, his act was -- and still is -- an over-the-top operatic epic, but that's exactly what current pop culture seems to love. And the songs that make up Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" albums are huge, dramatic and more than a little bit campy.
Show opener "Into the Fire" established Meat Loaf's larger-than-life persona very literally -- giant inflatable versions of his entire band exploded onto the stage with the song's first chords. His band's sound was as massive as his image, with eight members lending an almost orchestral-like fullness of sound.
But the trademark of Meat Loaf's shows is the theatrics, and his band was a big part of that. His backup singers were more than just midriff-baring babes. In "I Want My Money Back," they were both audible and visual representations of temptation, clad in black and white, posing the questions of conscience from opposite sides of the stage. Slightly overwrought, to be sure, but it's drama that even today's most serious acts don't even attempt.
But the Loaf also dodges pretentiousness that comes with heavy theatrics with a self-deprecating sense of humor and an ability to cut loose and simply have fun. In the break leading into "Anything for Love," the Loaf poked fun at his own hefty image and his long rock star tenure.
After an intermission, the band took the stage in garb that would fit in at The World's Largest Disco, with fringe vests, zebra go-go boots and Meat Loaf reincarnating his younger self -- long hair, sloppy tuxedo and red bandanna in his hand to mop his brow. All the fun had the bittersweet feel of a farewell tour, however. Opening and intermission montages celebrated his career in music and the movies but seemed like posthumous retrospectives. The Loaf also gave somewhat of a farewell address, saying, "I've never said this before, but it is an honor and a privilege to play here in Buffalo." Lastly, it seemed Meat Loaf's health might be catching up to him. Though laboring through shows is part of his schtick, cracks showed through. His voice cracked where his bellow used to shine, and a clearly out-of-breath Meat Loaf slumped on stools, monitors and microphone stands.
Tuesday night in Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.