Meat Loaf has been an enduring staple of the global concert touring scene for more than two decades. His shows blend a theatrical style with powerful, lush musical tapestries that connect with an audience, keeping them both enthralled and guessing as to what's next. With a series of theatre dates under the format of VH1's Storytellers series, Meat Loaf presented yet another take on the art of concert entertainment on a tour that ended in January.
The idea for the tour stemmed from a highly successful taping of Storytellers-so successful, in fact, that the network broke format and decided to present the show in two full segments. A CD of the performance also resulted, and thus it was a natural to take this concept further, into the live touring realm.
On the sound side, the tour relied on Meat Loaf's longtime front-of-house engineer George Wehrlin of Scorpio Sound, while lighting was conceived by Meat Loaf newcomer Bryan Hartley, who is best known for designing hardcore rock-and-roll shows for Kiss, Poison, and Megadeth, among others.
"This is an ideal format for Meat Loaf," notes Wehrlin. "He likes to talk and is quite engaging, so the opportunity to interact with a live audience about his music makes for an entertaining, compelling show."
Hartley agrees Meat Loaf knows how to communicate, not only to his fans, but to his production crew, a quality the lighting designer learned firsthand when he joined the tour, stepping in for the singer's resident lighting designer Bill Sheldon. "I had talked to Billy Sheldon the month or so prior to the tour, but when I got there the day of load-in, the production manager said, 'I gotta tell you something. Meat Loaf didn't know Billy wasn't going to be here.' So they told him, 'This new guy has done a lot of stuff. He's done Kiss and Poison.' And Meat Loaf said, 'Poison? I don't want that kind of lighting. That's not what I'm all about. I'm about the theatre.'"
Luckily, the potentially pyrotechnic situation quickly turned collaborative when Meat Loaf, a fan of moving lights and former LDI attendee, met with Hartley. "When he came there that afternoon he talked to me a little bit," the lighting designer remembers. "He said, 'It's not your fault. Nobody told me this.' We only had three days of rehearsal and he said, 'If I had known, I would have gotten you an extra three days of rehearsal, because this is a very intense show.' "
The next day Meat Loaf sat with Hartley while the band rehearsed and worked out the look of the show. "He told me he didn't want 'rock-and-roll lighting,'" says Hartley. "He was worried that during slow songs I would have all of this flashing stuff going on. But I pretty much did what the songs called for. I showed him what I had and he told the tour manager, 'This guy has it together. I'm not worried about it at all.' "
Lighting equipment was supplied by Creative Stage Lighting and included 20 High End Systems Studio Colors(r), 18 Studio Spots(tm), 30 PAR cans for lighting the audience, and eight UV units for lighting the backdrop, which was designed by Meat Loaf and Sheldon and features a locker room motif and paintings of sports figures. Sports figures? "Yeah, Meat Loaf grew up with sports," says Hartley. "People ask him if he looked up to other musicians, but he says not really musicians as much as athletes. Actually he approaches his whole concert like it's a game."
For Hartley, part of the game was using a new toy, a Flying Pig Systems Whole Hog II console, the first he has used on tour. "Ever since the Icon board's been out, I have totally sworn by it," he says. "I use the Icon on Kiss, because the show is so big. But the Hog was great for a smaller tour like this. It was a slick setup with two monitors and a compact board like that."
Soundwise, each stop on the tour featured four wireless microphones distributed throughout the audience, with Meat Loaf generally commencing a show by telling a story, in turn inviting individuals to share their own stories or to ask a question. This led to a performance of the song that was tied into the discussion, backed by his full band.
Venues were generally in the 2,000- to 3,500-seat range, with Massachusetts-based Scorpio Sound providing complete sound reinforcement systems and production support for a full band that includes Patti Russo, known for her duets with Meat as well as stellar backing vocals. The Meat Loaf sound in the live realm, as one might expect, is presented as "huge, bigger than life," Wehrlin explains. "He likes it really strong, really loud, even in the more intimate setting of a theatre." Most of the songs are multilayered, with strong vocals over the top of the large, electronic band, plus a wide range of effects that includes full horn and string passages. At the same time, however, Wehrlin had to streamline the rig in deference to space concerns.
"For a standard arena show, I'll usually have 74 inputs spread across two full consoles, but we were dealing with smaller front-of-house positions," he says. "I changed from my usual Midas XL4 to a Midas Heritage 3000, which is not as big but is still great on the performance side, and then went with a digital Yamaha 02R as my second console, where I do all of the drum mixing. This saved a lot of space, keeping the work space comfortable yet highly functional."
The tour's main loudspeaker system, Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW) KF700 Series, played important roles on both the space and sonic fronts. Scorpio Sound began using KF700s for the J. Geils Band reunion tour over the summer of 99, and has since supplied them for touring acts like Creed in addition to a myriad of one-offs. The Meat Loaf tour included KF750 three-way, full-range modules as well as KF755 dedicated downfill modules in a variety of flown and stacked configurations, depending upon the venue, with Scorpio's Kevin Marshall directly overseeing this facet.
All main loudspeakers and subwoofers were driven by Scorpio Sound's standard touring amp packages, with four Crest 8002s per rack. Some racks included an additional Crest 7001 to power EAW JF80 compact loudspeakers set along the stage lip to provide front fill. For this tour, Wehrlin decided to evaluate the new BSS FDS-366 digital loudspeaker processor, with three of these also distributed among the racks. Two were dedicated to the KF750s (left and right arrays) and the subwoofers, with one output of one of these units also used for the fill loudspeakers. The other unit handled the KF755s in both downfill and upfill modes.
Background vocals rank high on the list of priorities, routed through two subgroups off the Heritage console to a Manley tube leveling amplifier and then treated with an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer. A bit of tc electronic M2000 reverb was applied as well. This all worked to thicken them up, to make the backgrounds more lush. Meat and Russo used Shure UHF wireless systems with SM58 mic capsules, while all the other vocalists had Shure Beta 58A mics.
Monitor engineer Patrick Murray mixed on a PM4000 that was stuffed to the gills. Every input and output was in use, along with compression and effects. All performers used in-ear monitoring systems, either Shure or Garwood, with a mix provided to an EAW KF850/SB850 side-fill stack providing some thump.
"This tour is fun for everyone involved, because it's different for all of us from night to night. There's always an edge, always a challenge," Wehrlin concludes. "We've had great reviews for the performances and also for the sound, which is certainly an indicator that we're on the right track."