The most dangerous men on the planet (or, at least they were in 2010) are back. After an eight-year hiatus and a two-year postponement, My Chemical Romance is in the midst of their first US tour in nearly a decade. While I could write a novel-length piece about My Chem, I’m going to spare you the excessive gushing. If you want to know more about the band members and their history, you can check out this article, or watch their gritty tour diary/documentary, Life on The Murder Scene (which I have committed to memory). For now, all you need to know is that My Chemical Romance is an entrancingly weird band that churned out emo hit after hit for 12 years until their breakup in 2013. They can best be described by conjuring the mental image of death-obsessed, gender-nonconforming vampires who play DnD.
The return of MCR ushers in an era of uncertainty for the band, their world-wide fanbase, and the emo scene. Can the band who skipped their adolescence come back with enough relevancy to save the emo genre from obscurity? Or is it just a cash-grab with watered down performances?
Thanks to the money I’d been saving since the age of twelve (just in case MCR ever decided to reunite), I had the opportunity to see two of these reunion shows, one in Philly and the other in their hometown of Newark. At both shows, I started crying before the band went on stage. At one point I was on the verge of dry heaving from excitement. While both performances were equally transcendental, I’ll give My Chem the home field advantage by focusing on the Newark show.
Despite the humid city air that surrounds the venue, there is an instant chill as the stage lights begin to flicker and bursts of static creak through the speakers. After more than five minutes of this purgatory (as if twelve years of waiting wasn’t enough), My Chemical Romance takes the stage. Wordlessly, they go right into their only release since reuniting, “The Foundations of Decay.” While their set lists change from show to show, this opener is a constant where, during the guitar-heavy bridge, the red velvet curtain behind the band drops, revealing a Broadway-worthy set of a gray-toned, almost apocalyptic, devastated city. Both times the curtain plummeted my heart leapt – they still got it.
As the set goes on, the band plays a solid mix that is sure to please any fan. Interspersed between their notable hits (“Welcome to The Black Parade,” “I’m Not Okay,” “Helena,” etc.) they feature lesser-known deep cuts including songs off obscure demos and some that can only be found through specific Youtube searching.
The first stand out moment of the night is a song that MCR has not played live since 2012, “Planetary (GO!).” With a much juicer, pop-ier tone than My Chem’s typical doom and gloom discography, “Planetary (GO!)” turns the rock show into a rave. Blinding, rainbow colored lights drench the scene while lead singer, Gerard Way, tells the crowd to “get up and go!” As someone who once owned a fan page dedicated to MCR with the username ‘Planetaryhoe,’ I feel qualified to say that hearing Gerard sing (well, more like moan) the bridge of that song is without a doubt the finest sound that has ever reached human ears.
“Planetary” is a song that demands energy – it shows us more than what they’re going to play tonight. It sets the tone for how they’re going to play it. Admittedly, MCR has never been particularly well-known for Gerard Way’s vocals. Don’t get me wrong, he’s iconic. Never before has a middle-aged person made me want to be a middle-aged person more than Gerard. But it has never been his breathless, half-screaming, vocals that made the band who they are; it is his stage presence. Despite having to pitch their songs down to match Way’s more mature vocal range, he still packs all the punch he did in his mid-twenties.
He is joyfully chaotic. One moment he’s screaming out lyrics and the next he’s tossing his hair and reminiscing about Catholic school. Known for his gothic homemade costumes, Way sports a fully sequined blazer with slicked-back hair and a painted-on black eye to match. Now in his forties, Way has embraced his gender expression in a way that he never could in the early 2000s, wearing dresses and headscarves and nurse costumes during other reunion performances.
In fact, it seems as though ten years away from the public eye has given every member of MCR time to grow into themselves. Frank Iero, rhythm guitarist, has mellowed since his days of flinging himself off drum sets and kicking Gerard in the balls mid-performance, but each chord he plays proves how much he loves the band. Mikey Way, bassist and quiet ‘spiritual advisor’ of the band now takes the time to soak in the spotlight he was once too timid to accept. Ray Toro,
a god amongst men lead guitarist, head-bangs his way through some of the most complex guitar riffs in the genre. Like the wine they’ve replaced their stage-beers with, MCR has only gotten better with age.
As the band moves through their setlist, I move deeper into pure fangirl hysteria. At this point in the night, the songs have shifted from the danceable “Planetary (GO!)” to the raw sound reminiscent of the band’s early days. Gerard has formed a deep attachment to his soundboard during the tour and now, in a fuzzy moment between songs, he seems to be smashing the buttons at random, emitting static and screeches into the air. But this time, a rhythm forms. The arena is the quietest it can get as Way belts out unreleased lyrics. His singing is gorgeous and ringing as it crashes down into familiarity. A steady guitar kicks in and the song transitions into the instantly identifiable, “Famous Last Words.”
Iero’s and Toro’s chords harmonize. Mikey Way’s bass plays coils around the foundation of the song. Gerard preaches the lyrics I know all too well. It is the first time I feel the band’s age. I feel my own age, too. My Chemical Romance will never be the band they once were and I will never again be the girl that fell in love with them. And while I mourn the fact that she only ever saw her idols perform through cracked iPod Touch screens, I am more so overcome with the reality that I am falling in love with the band as they are now. It is a new love, but it is familiar.
And many of their fans feel the same way. The crowds at My Chem shows have grown alongside the band. From punk crowds filled with rage, to an underground scene swarmed with mosh pits, to sprawling arenas, the fans and the band have always been in-tune with each other. A decade apart threatened that balanced relationship, but fans proved that they were ready and willing to follow MCR’s lead.
Not to mention, a lot of fans are just as tired as the rockstars themselves. From what I can see, the crowd consists of people in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. While a small group of moshers start to rage toward the back of the pit, there are an equal number of fans reclining in the nosebleeds, holding onto their $15 Bud Lights with absolutely no intention of throwing them in the air. These opposite energies might appear to be disjointed, but it somehow feels right for the band. MCR is not desperately clinging to their youth – they’re looking over their shoulders at it while they march toward their new sound and future. Like a procession in a black parade, the fans are simply following.
As the night draws to a close, the members of My Chem waste no time. In under five minutes, they’re back on stage for the encore. They first play “Vampires Will Never Hurt You,” a heavy song from their punk days that truly summarizes the band’s energy and their macabre aesthetics. Then, something unexpected happens. They start to play a song I don’t recognize. Alright, let me say that again. I. Don’t. Know. This. Song. I’ve had MCR’s entire discography memorized since I was a preteen. My knees buckle. A buzz of confusion circles around the arena. Could this be it? Are they about to debut a new song? Announce a new album?
Well, no. But we do get something new. As the intro folds into the first verse and Gerard starts growling lyrics into the mic, I suddenly realize that I’ve heard this somewhere before. It’s not an MCR original, but a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” More accurately, with the rampant guitars and nasally pronunciation of the chorus, it is more akin to the legendary punk cover by the Sex Pistols. Still, this-cover-of-a-cover manages to stand on its own. Beyond the vitality packed into each beat, there is also the importance of the message that the closing song is sending. My Chemical Romance doesn’t care what you think of them or their evolving image. They’re not here to make you feel nostalgic. They’re not here to pander to audiences that no longer exist. If it wasn’t clear enough already, they’re going to do it their way – a new way.
At the beginning of this, I joked about MCR just being some weird band, but that’s not all they are. To quote their infamous breakup announcement (now removed from the band’s website, it is archived by Genius Lyrics) MCR is not a band – it’s an idea. They’re the bloodstream of a generation of outcasts. Their unapologetic dedication to their art and their fans carried their legacy through a decade-long breakup. Throughout their North American tour, My Chemical Romance has made it clear that they’re not the band they used to be, they’re something else entirely. The members, their sound, their beliefs; everything is more mature, introspective, and relevant. Now it’s only a matter of seeing what they do next.