After years of anguish, months of wonder and weeks of speculative excitement, it happened. My Chemical Romance returned. The four friends reconvened, played about 20 songs in 90 or so brilliant minutes to the capacity crowd of the Shrine in Los Angeles and left. The end.
That’s it. What more do you need to know? The shaky phone pics/vids are out there. The live tweeting ended 12 hours ago. There’s a My Chemical Romance setlist somewhere on the internet. Maybe you were there and you’re ready to start a fight online for some dumb reason. Whatever. It’s done. Close your browser, finish your Christmas shopping and be off.
You’re still here? All right!
In their classic song “London Calling,” punk icons the Clash have that line, “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.” My Chemical Romance have a few more decades to go before they attain that stature. Then again, there’s nothing phony about them. When that stage curtain hit the floor to the opening chords of “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” last night, the memory of a six-year hiatus completely evaporated. The surging adrenaline coursing from their fans was consistent throughout the entire show.
When Gerard Way asked the crowd how many were attending their first-ever MCR show, the amount of screaming and outstretched arms were overwhelming. He said it was a “good experience to have” and then chided them for having “nothing to compare it to.”
But if we’re being honest, we didn’t have a baseline for this one, either. MCR’s return was far more than the typical rock show. There were lots of parents with their children in tow, either as My Chem devotees passing generations or financial conduits bringing magic to their wards’ lives. The VIP section was one-half mid-2000’s catering line at Warped Tour and celebrities with their kids. There were fans in their thirties who were there at the beginning or the middle of the band’s career.
The atmosphere of this crowd felt like a giant family, with none of the bad moods or belligerence that inevitably occurs in large groups of people. You left your spot on the general admission floor to use the restroom and you were let back in by your fellow stans. Whether you were a 14-year-old kid or a 45-year-old dude. And there was lots of crying, a response to what was going to happen this evening. And it wasn’t going to be Disney On Ice.
Onstage, what was happening were great songs and chemistry. Period. This is important to recognize. Any band with this level of acclaim and expectation has the propensity to go hard on the spectacle. Bigger lights! Lasers! Massive LED panels running videos we’ve seen a million times of the members in their twenties! Insipid props leftover from EDM fests! Captive white tigers! In that regard, MCR completely dispensed with the Vegas-style trappings.
There was mood lighting. There was Sara Taylor from neo-industrial sleeper-cell duo Youth Code (helping out on an incredible version of “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison”). But the core symbiosis remains: those songs and the fans’ response to them. MCR’s majestic statue backdrop was more than enough. Not cheap, but very authentic.
The bottom line was the songs. From the delicacy of “I Don’t Love You” to the furniture-breaking tendencies of “Make Room!!!” (marking a debut live performance) and “Destroya,” to the creepy cabaret of “Mama,”no emotion went unprobed. But you know this. (Please return to the second paragraph.)
The fans leaving the Shrine last night were the epitome of plateau emotion. The smiles were legion. Some were sobbing as they headed for the exits. Strangers were smiling, laughing, high-fiving and hugging each other. Outside the venue were peaceful stans who couldn’t get in but listened to the show from the sidewalk. They too felt like something magical kept them there.
The big takeaway from all of this? MCR predicated their comeback on one thing: Making sure that it was always about the fans. It wasn’t a celebration of ego. Cash-grab? Hardly. (Fun fact: A trusted source once told us that MCR have sold more merch during their hiatus than they ever did as a daily functioning unit.) Their return didn’t have vestiges of an elite club, a creepy cult gathering or the need of being seen to secure fleeting cool-point vapor.
My Chemical Romance have no advice to other bands. They showed up, acknowledged their break and cranked the serotonin levels in their fans’ collective psychic IV bag. It’s what great bands do. The fans’ tacit approval was the only thing that mattered. If they walked offstage of the Shrine feeling like they failed, they’d acknowledge that. And then go back to seeing each other at holidays, group texting who was going to bring desserts and potato salad.
At the Shrine, MCR didn’t make a spectacle of themselves. There were no MVP’s, just a well-oiled machine. Yes, Gerard’s propensity to scream remains and guitarist Ray Toro’s urgency bewilders (dude plays like he’s rescuing endangered species from a burning building). That energy looks good on Instagram. But fed in real-time to 6,000 fans singing back the line “asleep or dead” (from “Famous Last Words”) at full force like a 106-decibel wedding vow? There’s nothing like it.
If you were at the Shrine with MCR last night—onstage, backstage or in the front of the crowd—you felt it. And if you saw it through a digital rectangle, you still did. MCR remind us that in swipe-left culture, rock ‘n’ roll is still a full-contact sport. And you gotta go all in. Heart first.
After tonight, it just got harder to be in a rock band.