Meat Loaf: Storytellers

Meat Loaf: Storytellers (1999)
BMG Entertainment
Extras: Lyrics, Web links

When MTV’s "Unplugged" sessions conquered TV screen across the world, they were hailed as the most intimate thing imaginable in the music industry. Bringing pure live performances of artists in front of very limited audiences in small venues was in complete contradiction to the gargantuan stadium extravaganzas we had seen during the 80s. It was a means to make the artists more personable, to bring them back to their roots, also proving to audiences, that despite the incredible growth of technology in music, musical skills and virtuosity were essential for great songs and performances. As expected, many bands did not stand the test of MTV’s scrutinizing "Unplugged" performances, often embarrassing themselves quite a bit as they struggled to play even the most simplistic tunes.
Other artists shone brighter than ever in this format however, and Eric Clapton immediately comes to mind with his memorable performance during the segment. As it is the case with many trends, "MTV Unplugged" was eventually overused and under-performed and these days it has become very quiet around these shows. Enter VH-1’s "Storytellers."

"Storytellers" takes the idea of MTV’s Unplugged segments one step further and at the same time remains more sensible to the original artistic vision of the musicians. While MTV forced artists to castrate their tunes in order to make them presentable in fully acoustic line-ups, this restriction does obviously not apply for "Storytellers." Finally we get the chance to hear the music as it was originally perceived, but in a small venue in front of a small audience, and with a personal note as you would not have imagined a short time ago. Imagine having a chit-chat session with a musician in a bar, combined with live performances of that artist, and you get an idea for what the concept behind this production is.

"Meat Loaf" is clearly one of the superstars who has been so large that he became practically untouchable over the past 3 decades, playing stadiums and arenas where most of his fans were probably degraded to seeing his stature as a shape from a distance, rather than being able to distinguish individual features. Although the artists has always been very open to the public, how often did you have the chance to ask him questions, to hear him tell stories and anecdotes from his illustrious life and career. "Storytellers" is exactly that.

Staring out with "All Revved Up With No Place To Go", the show starts with a furious song that makes it clear that this is not a toned down performance session, but a solid rock concert. After the song however, Meat Loaf sits down and tells about himself. For five minutes he explains who he is, where he came from, why the set looks the way it does, etc. He allows the audience to ask questions and very personal ones at that. Charmingly, and staggeringly open, he reveals his feelings and secrets in a completely relaxed atmosphere where even the watcher at home can feel the intimacy of the situation. Ever so often – and always completely improptu to complement the questions raised – Meat Loaf and his band break into performances of songs to show the audience what is all about. The result is a phenomenally personal experience and a great live show of Meat Loaf, featuring songs like "Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad", "Heaven Can Wait", "Paradise By The Dashboard Light", and of course "Bat Out Of Hell" among many others. The disc contains 53 minutes of footage that was not shown in the original VH-1 broadcast TV segment, and offers even more exciting insight.

BMG has now released this VH-1 segment on DVD and it is a great addition to the music library available on DVD. The image is presented in <$PS,fullframe> in a nice looking transfer. Since the show was originally recorded on video, some slight video artifacts are evident, most notable in the softness of some of the images, due to the heavy lighting, and the occasional color bleeding. Given the dim lighting conditions, the video source also produces a lot of noise, visible in grain in the images, which makes proper compression of the material increasingly harder. Despite its rather high average bitrate, the DVD exhibits quite a bit of compression artifacting, mostly in the form of <$pixelation,pixelation> and loss of definition. I found these artifacts quite obvious at times – especially during close-ups. It would have been great if more care would have been taken in the preparation of this DVD transfer, especially since there is still plenty of empty room on the DVD which could have been used to increase the image quality.

The audio on the disc is rather meticulous however, without problems or defects. The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix as well as a stereo mix. I found it interesting how well integrated and spatial the stereo track sounded. The true gem is the 5.1 track however, which reproduces a great live atmosphere with good ambient reflections. The audience is mixed in the rear channels and especially the bright early reflections of the music fall in from the rear, creating a very dimensional sound image. The mix is clearly designed to faithfully reproduce the venue, rather than to build a blown up ’surround’ mix of the music. As a result, you will feel as if you’re sitting right in front of the stage with people cheering beside and behind you.

Despite its problems in the video transfer, "Meat Loaf: Storytellers" is a great release. It takes the MTV Unplugged concept in a new, more sensible direction and gives audiences the chance to virtually ’meet’ their stars. The kind of exposure and thoughtfulness Meat Loaf shows on this video is incredible and shows so much more of the man behind the music. The performances are as good as any "Meat Loaf" live recording and the addition of the complete song lyrics on the DVD is also a great addition. This DVD is gem in every music fan’s DVD library and show new ways to experience well know music from a completely different angle. It is like "Unplugged" on steroids!