Review: My Chemical Romance’s 9/11 show was a cathartic, raucous trip down memory lane
On the night of Sept. 11, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center garbages were treasure chests of spiked chokers and barbed-wire bracelets. But strict security did not prevent the swarming goths from smiling. Dyed hair and smoky red eye makeup could be spotted in every direction. Geoff Rickly’s voice ricocheted through an arena of concertgoers who have waited for this day for a decade. With his band Thursday, he was setting the tone for the evening, preparing everyone for My Chemical Romance.
When My Chemical Romance broke up in 2013, an unprecedented amount of teenage hearts broke. To many, they were a place of solace and escape from a cruel world. They were a playground for outsiders; they welcomed in who everyone else shut out.
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The arena pulsated with collective anticipation. Every fan who discovered the band through Tumblr in 2010 was just about old enough to drink. Beers passed between wrists covered in black gel bracelets. Rickly performed “War All The Time,” a song whose influence on My Chemical Romance is unmissable: “War all of the time/In the shadow of the New York skyline.” Despite the dismal words, he beamed with a bright smile, opening for the group he believed in since the beginning at a 20,000-capacity venue.
My Chemical Romance’s return in December 2019 was hard to believe. For years, asking when MCR would come back was an entire personality trait. Their music was overshadowed by an immediate nostalgia. They became more known for their disappearance than their decade of activity. It was weird for fans to finally have their prayers answered. And it was kind of fitting that their reunion shows would ultimately be postponed by a spreading sickness that forced the world into a state of collective grief over an accumulating, colossal loss.
When Thursday left the stage, the tension grew. The pit slowly filled with people donned in band T-shirts and Doc Martens, some having paid upward of $300 to be there. Outside there was a downpour echoing the thump of excitement in the room. The second the lights dimmed, the crowd emitted a loud roar and My Chemical Romance walked onto the stage — it was hard to believe it was real and not an old Tumblr GIF.
They broke into “The Foundations of Decay,” their first new song in almost a decade that was unleashed in May and stunned fans with its visceral buildup, cinematic texture, vivid storytelling, themes of war and loss — it was just so quintessentially My Chemical Romance despite the passage of time. In something of a whisper, Gerard sings in the second verse, “He was there the day the towers fell/And so he wandered down the road/And we would all build towers of our own/Only to watch the roots corrode.” While the fandom’s obsession with 9/11 is eerie and at times insensitive, it felt religious to be seeing the band on the anniversary of the tragedy that inspired their formation, in a superstitious kind of way.
This was especially true when the band immediately launched into “Skylines and Turnstiles” as the second song. Gerard’s scratchy yells and the chaotic instrumentation prompted headbangs and pushing that continued throughout their entire set — intensifying during the following track, their classic hit “I’m Not Okay (I Promise).” People screamed along in disbelief that it wasn’t an Emo Nite DJ set or karaoke at a bar: It was the real thing, and it was cathartic and just absolutely fun, as if the song wasn’t dark at all. Nothing about it felt sad, or even nostalgic; all that mattered was the present, and the ironically bright future of My Chemical Romance.
The energy never relented, not during deep-cuts like “Boy Division” and “This Is The Best Day Ever,” not when they played the theatrical Three Cheers highlights “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison” and “It’s Not a Fashion Statement, It’s a Fucking Deathwish” back to back, and especially not when they catapulted from “Welcome To The Black Parade” into “Teenagers.” People flung their bodies back and forth in passion; it was the kind of release that was building up for years. It’s not easy for a band like My Chemical Romance to come back; their resurrection was so highly anticipated that when it happened, it was like a fever dream. Getting what you desperately wanted is often scary — you worry it will not live up to your expectations. But it was evident in everyone’s screams and vigor that it was all they could’ve possibly hoped for.
They closed with the fiery hit “Helena,” a no-brainer choice with its famous, epitaph-like refrain “So long and good night,” which has been immortalized through many tattoos. Though it was bittersweet, thankfully it wasn’t their official goodbye. After the crowd howled for them to return for an encore, they stepped back onstage for more cult-revered songs, starting with “Vampires Will Never Hurt You,” followed by “Desert Song,” a Three Cheers B-side that they hadn’t played since 2008. The ballad was a warm place to leave off on; phone flashlights waved in the air, and tears likely fell, sad from the emotive chords and dejected lyrics from Gerard’s strained voice, and crushed that the night had come to an end. It’s OK, though, because My Chemical Romance are just beginning.