To do Meat Loaf’s 1977 Bat Out of Hell album right, you have to reproduce not only its music, but also its wild theatricality and larger-than-life emotion. On April 29, kicking off his three-night “Bat Out of Hell Live” stand at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal — inspired by Meat Loaf’s death in January, at the age of 74 — Remember Jones did it right. Fronting an 18-piece band (with two very special guests helping out), he performed like, yes, a bat out of hell, reminding us why the album became such a huge hit in the first place.
He made a grand entrance, dressed in a black bat cape, before revealing his colorful, outlandish costume underneath (see photo at right). Band members wore ruffled shirts and long coats, in tribute to Meat Loaf’s trademark look, too. The musicians came onto the stage, and left, throughout the night, on moving platforms, and Remember Jones frequently interacted with his six background singers and various musicians. There was a lot going on, always.
It’s rare to mount an intricately choreographed rock show, and even rarer to pull off one in which the performers are able to project a sense of fun and looseness throughout, as this band did.
E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, who played on three of the original album’s seven songs, was on hand to play those songs — for the first time, for a concert audience — as well as the other Bat Out of Hell material. He played with his usual versatility and dependability, and added an extended dual with Joe Bellia, best known as the drummer for The Weeklings, as the introduction to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” (While Remember Jones stayed faithful to the original arrangements, as much as he could, he did add instrumental interludes and segments with different tempos, at times).
Bellia played on all the Bat songs, too, as well as keeping the beat, without Weinberg, for the rest of the show, which included five other Meat Loaf songs as well as the crazed Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell monologue, “Wasted Youth.” The added songs were “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (best known as a Celine Dion hit, of course, though Meat Loaf did record a great version of it, too), “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” the retro-rocking “Dead Ringer for Love,” the stomping “Life Is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” and “Everything Louder Than Everything Else,” performed as the show’s big, brash grand finale.
Remember Jones generously let Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie belt out two of Meat Loaf’s best known songs, “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Weiner also played piano while Jones sang “Heaven Can Wait.” Jones and Weiner are kindred spirits, both dedicated to bringing a sense of fun and hard-driving, over-the-top showmanship back to rock ‘n’ roll, so it was great to see them together on this project.
Six backing vocalists performed throughout the show, with each getting a spotlight duet. Stevi Incremona landed the evening’s plum role, playing the assertive temptress of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and sang with the explosive power the song calls for. (New Jersey 101.5 FM DJ Big Joe Henry contributed the pre-taped reenactment of the famous Phil Rizzuto play-by-play segment). All the other duet singers, including Taylor Tote on “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and Taylor Ash on “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” were formidable partners as well.
Some but not all of the show’s participants perform with Remember Jones regularly; others in the large band included guitarists Zach LoPresti and Jeremy Savo, bassist Johnny Pisano and pianist Sam Gutman. There are no plans to reassemble everyone and do this again, so if you weren’t lucky enough to land a ticket to one of the weekend’s sold-out shows, you may never get another chance.
The remaining “Bat Out of Hell Live” show takes place at 7 p.m. May 1. Visit axelrodartscenter.com.
After the show, Remember Jones interviewed Weinberg on the Axelrod stage, for VIP ticket-holders. Weinberg talked about his own background in theater (he played in the “Godspell” pit band on Broadway before joining the E Street Band) and the effect that had on his approach to drumming later, how he came to play on Bat Out of Hell, what the album sessions were like and more, while Remember Jones discussed his own deep connection to Bat Out of Hell.
One of the most interesting things Weinberg spoke about was Bat Out of Hell songwriter Jim Steinman’s guidance for him, during the recording sessions. (Steinman died in April 2021, less than a year before Meat Loaf.)
“Jim was very theatrical; everything was filtered through ‘show,’ ” said Weinberg. “And he wanted me to play … I was 26 at the time. He wanted me to play like a 14-year-old drummer who was good, but didn’t quite have it together. So he always wanted the end of the song to be twice as fast as the beginning. …
“Now, you’ve got to remember, Jim Steinman was quite an eccentric character, and very, very low-key. But when I was playing the drums … and I did a lot of work with him through the ‘7os and ’80s, a lot of songs … he would get very, very excited … he would be going like this (flailing arms) for me to hit the cymbals. And he always liked it when I knocked the cymbal stands over … he wanted me to play like an out-of-control teenager. I said, ‘Jim, this is going to ruin my reputation!’ He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s the angst. I want the angst on the drums.’ He was thinking theatrically. And that’s kind of what we got.”
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