An entire decade without My Chemical Romance.
An entire stadium, a sea of black and red, holds its breath as palpable anticipation fills the air. There’s an unnerving buzz coming from the speakers as a swarm of flies takes up the video screens on either side of the stage. The neon green drum head boasts the word “SICK” in thick spray paint—foreshadowing what’s to come. Gerard Way prances onto stage in a vintage-style nurse outfit complete with a long white dress, tights, shoes, and a delicate little hat—the last only made it through a couple of songs.
My Chemical Romance is back.
Gerard isn’t the only one in costume. Fans flaunt elaborate handmade outfits and intricate makeup in everything from glitter tears to black graphic eyeliner that can only be described as artwork (and overall looks inspired by the band’s discography of themes and universes). What happens when a band gives itself complete creative freedom and leans totally into a poetic expression both in music and visuals? You get a community that feels invited to participate. It makes the experience of having MCR back in a live capacity that much more enthralling—walking into the venue almost does feel like a parade. They’ve created this safe space; something that can only be done with lots of intention behind it. Tomorrow some people will have to hide their black skinny jeans and makeup under their bed, but tonight they get to show up as themselves, the way everyone should be able to.
This doesn’t feel like a reunion. This feels like we are picking up where we left off—but even that doesn’t exactly describe the energy MCR brings to the set. The band infuses so much life into songs throughout the night that I have goosebumps as if I am hearing the tracks again for the first time—not the 500th. I know so many people in the room share the same experiences that I have with these songs. We’ve blasted them on wired headphones connected to a CD player before school, carefully chosen which one to put on our MySpace profile, or screamed our lungs out to them in our first car. We’ve used them for company on sleepless nights, looked forward to hearing them at the local emo night, and soundtracked so many important moments in our lives. We’ve made these songs our own—they are worn in but far from worn out.
MCR has long been known for their campiness, they don’t just play a show, they truly put ON a show. Gerard’s face sings as much as his instrumental voice does and each expression captivates the crowd. The entire group has such a commanding presence on stage, especially as Gerard often frantically plays with his effects table like a mad scientist trying to find the perfect combination for whatever his secret recipe is. MCR really owns their power and plays with this electric confidence but, more than anything, they play like they LOVE to play. It’s contagious and as their audience, it makes having them back that much more special. They are home—trinkets line the top of amps and kids’ drawings are taped up on the front. All of these humanizing elements, backdropped by the elaborate decaying and destroyed skyline of some mysterious city, are somehow the perfect visual metaphor for the group: deeply caring, heart-on-your-sleeve wearing humans, willing to talk about their ghosts and all the darkness that surrounds them. Emo is short for emotion, after all, and this is THE band to define that.
My Chemical Romance opened the set with their latest bone-chilling 6-minute track “The Foundations Of Decay”. It’s the only expected moment of the night since MCR changes up the setlist every single time, making the entire experience uniquely thrilling. What will come next? For Detroit, the nostalgia dripped “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” followed. This post-heartbreak song has been molded into more of a mental health declaration over the years by those who found comfort in the sheer vulnerability of the lyrics. It’s a beautiful thing to realize how every person in the room is able to interpret these songs as they need.
There were many standout moments including the sing-along anthem “Famous Last Words” as guitarist Ray Toro played with a feverish intensity that was absolutely mesmerizing. The crowd shook the building for “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”, they exploded for “Mama”, and cried with relief on “Welcome to the Black Parade”. During “The World Is Ugly” the entire arena lit up with cellphone lights, but I think bassist Mikey Way was beaming more than anyone and interestingly enough his instrument reflected a light beam right back out at the crowd. Longtime listeners were rewarded with “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” which brought guitarist Frank Iero and Gerard together for what I would call a classic theatrical MCR performance. MCR doesn’t rely on the production elements of many bands their size because they are the production. They play with their heart and souls without sacrificing any musicianship.
The entire band provided so much care for the crowd, they all spared moments to check on the pit and parts of the audience that were higher up or far off to the side. Gerard made it a point to ask everyone to take a step back making room for those at the front and, in unison, the entire crowd did just that. It was one of those simple yet incredible moments that happen when you know a band has created a truly respectful community.
“This band has a way of saving lives,” Gerard shared this line at the beginning of their 2006 documentary Life on the Murder Scene—talking about fans and himself. MCR didn’t shy away from topics of addiction, depression, and grief even though they were heavy and largely taboo at the time. I think of this line in particular during the live show when Gerard turns to the audience with a heartfelt, “You made it, we made it,” presumably about COVID and the delayed show date, but it held more weight than that to me. This is a band with a purpose, since they reach a real depth with their storytelling both on and off stage, cross-generational fans are able to connect with them on that deeper level. Seeing them live again is therapeutic, dare I say spiritual.
I think of two things Gerard closed out with in his 2013 Twitlonger. First, “All of the vibrancy I used to see became de-saturated. Lost. I used to see art or magic in everything, especially the mundane- the ability was buried under wreckage.” And here I am, a witness in 2022, the band is playing in front of the wreckage on stage, eyes full of light and hope. The saturation is all the way up. I am thankful they protected what we grew to love so dearly, even if that meant going away for a while. The flame never went out. They didn’t sacrifice themselves, they did the hard thing and chose integrity and boundaries. Boundaries can feel so difficult, like a cage, but they are set in place to protect something you love so it can truly last longer, thrive, live longer—instead of burning out too soon. It’s a lesson I might not have understood a decade ago, but it’s a lesson I cherish now. An example that it is okay to take a break, it’s much more beautiful to preserve what you love and come back stronger. The Twitlonger letter ends with, “It is alive in me, in the guys, and it is alive inside all of you. I always knew that, and I think you did too. Because it is not a band-it is an idea.” An idea. That’s what makes this evening so special because it’s less reunion and more reminder: You’re not alone. Life is hard but we are in this together. Always have been, always will.
The night ends fittingly with the dark yet comforting lullaby “Helena” and the line, “so long and goodnight,” echoes as the band walks off stage. My Chemical Romance is back on their own terms—the only way I would want them back—and they may be more forceful than ever. I hope “goodnight” is not synonymous with goodbye. I can only imagine the stories these artists have yet to tell. But there is this deep sense of peace I have either way when leaving the arena because so much care and love exudes from MCR and from the people who believe in what they’ve created. You could feel it in that room. If you paid attention enough, you can hear it in their lyrics. You can feel it when you meet another avid listener because truly you’re part of something bigger than yourself when you love this band back. You’re a part of this magical ‘idea’ that we can all make a difference, that we matter, that we don’t need to be afraid to keep on living because we really are in this together.