At Wolf Trap on Monday, Meat Loaf looked bad and sounded worse. But oh, what a show he put on.
Loaf, born Marvin Lee Aday well more than a half-century ago, was in the middle of an alleged farewell tour in 2003 when he collapsed on a London stage because of a heart abnormality. From the looks of things, Loaf hasn't taken good care of himself since the coronary incident. Carrying at least 100 extra pounds and stalking the stage wearing a maniacal glare, Loaf was a cross between Pavarotti and Gary Busey.
At several points in the almost 100-minute set, Loaf looked as though he might not make it through the night, so much did he sweat and so hard did he push himself and his hard-rock backup band. His voice no longer has anything close to operatic range. But when returning to material from "Bat Out of Hell," the 1977 LP that first served Meat Loaf and his brand of bombast-rock to the world, and its gazillion-selling follow-up, "Bat Out of Hell II," Loaf gave all he had trying to sing every note just the way fans remembered them. He usually failed. Yet the effort won the crowd over, and for most of the show the fans were on their feet cheering on each failure.
As they should have been: Not just any sweaty old fat guy could turn a lowbrow ditty such as "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" into several minutes of tear-jerking brilliance. Or get away with playing a Romeo while acting out the teenage-sex soap opera "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" (as Loaf did with a great assist from backup singer Patti Russo).
The oddest point in the show came during "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," when Loaf jumped into the crowd to confront a fan who refused to stand up like everybody else in his section. The scene went from humorous to darn near violent after Loaf began screaming curses at the stubborn sitter. Loaf eventually gathered his showman sensibilities and defused the situation by telling his adversary to order a copy of "Bat Out of Hell III," due in stores next year.
-- Dave McKenna
"Rock show from Tokyo Japan" read the banner hanging above Puffy AmiYumi's set at the 9:30 club Monday night. And from "Hi Hi," the speedy theme to their cartoon show, to a surprising cover of Green Day's "Basket Case," Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki indeed leaned more toward rock-and-roll than shiny J-Pop during their enjoyable 75-minute performance.
Backed by a tight and refreshingly straightforward rock band, the enchanting duo didn't rely on videos, animation or special effects. The music-centered approach seemed to baffle many of the elementary-school set in attendance (who probably know Ami and Yumi only as Cartoon Network's tiny animated rockers), but it made for a crisply paced, engaging evening for anyone who appreciates the pair's catchy rock and pop creations. Dominated by two sharp guitarists, Puffy AmiYumi's backing quintet buzzed through a best-of rundown, handling crunchy power pop ("Jet Police," "Love So Pure"), twitchy rock hooks ("Friends Forever," "True Asia"), synth-led burble ("Tokyo Nights") and hip-shake rumble ("Boogie-Woogie No. 5") with upbeat aplomb.
Of course, the singers were what made it all work. Pressing their vocals together on every hook, Yumi and Ami played cute rock stars to the hilt, tossing hair and bouncing in their retro tennis shoes. Even if their between-song banter -- read in English from tiny sheets of notebook paper -- was more annoying than alluring, their tuneful take on rock-and-roll broke down any language barriers just fine.
-- Patrick Foster