We bought the tickets from a third party website, which left us missing a vital piece of information. When I downloaded the e-ticket file, the name was wrong and the date was also wrong. We took them to the box office, and they explained that they were returned tickets. The box office teller told us just to queue to get in, and see what happened. If the tickets were rejected by the bar code scanner, there would be nothing the box office could do, and our dispute would be with the third party, not with Manchester Arena.
We got in.
We had very little money with which to buy refreshments, but managed to find a cash machine inside the arena complex.
We were conducted to our seats in stages, by three stewards. Manchester Arena has the same layout as Sheffield Arena: it has sloping seating round three sides, surrounding the stage, with rows of flat seating in front of the stage – what in a traditional theatre would be called the stalls.
Our tickets said row J. We ended up nine rows from the front of the stage.
There was no support act. They put the lights out, and played When I’m Sixty-four by The Beatles.
Lights came on, and the band took up their positions. They were all male, apart from the second vocalist. The line-up was: drums, baby grand piano, keyboards, electric bass, two guitars (electric for most songs), and Meat Loaf himself, who played electric guitar for some songs and acoustic guitar for some others, but mostly just used his voice. The keyboard player also did two saxophone solos. One of the only two things I did not like about the performance was that these solos, and some other features of the music, were inadequately conveyed by a slightly messy-sounding PA system. The PA was set-up for grunge, not for a strident, clean guitar and keyboard sound. But it was loud, and bassy. The drums and the bass hit you in the guts, and so justice was done at least to those instruments, and to the vocals. Fortunately, some of the piano playing was solo, which helped.
The other element I was not keen on was the huge screen above the stage. Maybe this was helpful to the people who were seated at the back, near the outskirts of Greater Manchester, but for those blessed with seats near the stage, it was a mere distraction.
Meat Loaf took to the stage looking like a madman. He was wearing a black suit which was quite conservative except for glittering symbols on both sleeves, and a black shirt. He was not having a bad hair day: he was having a bad hair decade. Compared to the peak of his career in the 80s, he had lost a lot of weight, and not in a good way. He looked as if he was carrying the world on his shoulders, and had been doing all his life, and was sick to death of it. He was pent-up. He was angry. He looked either ferocious or exhausted, but never anything in between. He looked as if he was about to break down. He did not look like a rock star: he was a rock star.
His singing performance was a master class from the school of “Give It Everything You’ve Got”. Rock ‘n’ roll is about sex, the propensity for violence, and mistakes – both the intention to make them and the capacity to regret having made them. Meat Loaf’s performance had all these ingredients in their strongest form. This performance had another as well: the melancholy (and relief) of saying goodbye. Every word he sang and spoke, especially during the slow, solo numbers, he expressed as if for the very last time. The stage was like the world’s largest, loudest, most brightly-illuminated deathbed.
The crowd lapped it up. If Meat Loaf had handed out poison and told us that it would make him happy if we drank it, we all would have done. It was a diverse crowd. It was a nice crowd. The atmosphere was one of peace and love. Meat Loaf was in touch with this. He told us that we were important. He told us that any act of kindness that we could perform would make the world a better place. We believed him.
It was one of the greatest live performances I have ever seen, or ever expect to see. The music was great mainly for its familiarity, and the memories that it evoked, but the stage presence, the intensity, the mixture of aggression and pathos and melancholy was unique and unforgettable.
Great art, most definitely including popular and mass-market art, changes people. I am not the same person I would have been had I never encountered the work of Meat Loaf. When I was writing my Kindle story ‘Pick-up Technique’, I was trying to write a rock ‘n’ roll story. I was trying to write about youthful mistakes, and how human beings try to cope with the consequences of them.
Goodbye, Meat Loaf. I wish you good health and long life, but I also suspect that you are your performances and, without the performances, there won’t be much left. Thanks for the music, the words, and the memories.