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Musician Pete Wentz, right, has a hearty laugh with fellow musician and close friend Travie McCoy at Metro in Chicago, Illinois, March 25, 2011. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
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CHICAGO — Pete Wentz didn’t seem to mind opening for rapper Travis “Travie” McCoy at Chicago’s 1,150-capacity Metro conceret hall last Friday. Sure, Wentz is used to headlining larger venues with Fall Out Boy, but he’s not in Fall Out Boy anymore (at least not at the moment). He’s now in Black Cards — the band he started last year with female vocalist Bebe Rexha.


For Wentz, McCoy’s tour will give his lesser-known band exposure. For McCoy, the Gym Class Heroes frontman headlining his first U.S. tour as a solo artist, it’s an opportunity to repay the friend who gave him his big break.


The two musicians met in June 2004 after a mutual friend passed along Gym Class Heroes’ album to Wentz, who had just started his Decaydance record label. The band’s alt-hip-hop sound caught Wentz by surprise, especially since he was used to being handed demo tapes that all sounded the same, and he met with McCoy and Gym Class Heroes guitarist Matt McGinley before a Fall Out Boy show in Buffalo, N.Y..


“Pete came in a dressing room and gave me the up and down,” said McCoy, 29, sitting backstage with Wentz hours before their show at Metro. “He eyeballed me and tried to gauge me.” Wentz said the up-and-down scan had more to do with McCoy’s 6-foot-5 frame than anything else. “It’s weird when you’re a short dude,” said Wentz, 31, who stands about 5-foot-8. “You have to take a step back to get the whole picture. I need to step on an apple box just to hang out with him.”


Wentz signed Gym Class Heroes to his label that fall and had them open for Fall Out Boy on tour. Over the years, Wentz and McCoy became close and have collaborated on songs (McCoy appeared on Fall Out Boy’s 2008 single “What a Catch, Donnie”), an art show (at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles in 2008), music videos (Wentz made a cameo in McCoy’s 2010 clip for “Billionaire”) — even tattoos (they share matching wrist tattoos: McCoy’s says “Young Hearts,” Wentz’s says “Be Free”).


“One of the most fun times I’ve ever had was when he stayed at my house for two weeks (in 2008) and we just started doing art out of nowhere,” Wentz said. “There was definitely a point when ...”


“You almost killed me?” McCoy asked.


Wentz didn’t deny it. He said he lit rubber cement on fire because he thought “it would look really cool,” which led to a larger-than-expected fire breaking out. Meanwhile, McCoy was taking a nap at the time and woke up to flames near his feet. “My first instinct was to jump up and push him out of the way,” McCoy said. “I grabbed a blanket and threw it on the fire. The whole time I’m like ‘What the (expletive) are you thinking?’”


When it came time for Wentz to choose a godfather for his son, Bronx, later that year, he narrowed his options down to McCoy and Cobra Starship singer Gabe Saporta before deciding on McCoy. “I figured Bronx needed Travis just as much as Travis needed Bronx,” Wentz said. “Travis, under it all, is really a sensitive dude. I know having something like that in his life will make his life important — make him keep chugging ahead when he has hard times.”


McCoy went through a public break-up with pop star Katy Perry and, like Wentz, has had his battles with drugs and depression. He said he has often turned to Wentz, who is going through a public divorce himself, with pop star Ashlee Simpson, to help him through.


“There have been so many instances where I’d be down and would call Pete and he would walk me through it,” McCoy said. “He’s been through a lot of things I’ve been through. He’s someone I can talk to about things and not feel judged.”


Although McCoy is having success as a solo artist (“Billionaire,” off of his 2010 debut “Lazarus,” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart), he said a new Gym Class Heroes album is in the works and could be out by the summer.


A new Fall Out Boy album? That’s a different story. The band members are currently working on separate projects. The potentially good news for Fall Out Boy fans is that Wentz feels the bandmates are getting along better these days. “It’s the time apart and space,” Wentz said. “And we’re now in a position where we have creative outlets and aren’t in each other’s way.”


Wentz had planned on releasing Black Cards’ debut album in the spring but is now shooting for the summer. “It’s different than Fall Out Boy,” he said. “We need to get the whole building behind it. With Fall Out Boy, it’s like ‘Let’s put out an album,’ and we could just roll it out. We need to market (Black Cards) in a different way. People don’t know us.”


In addition to bringing them on tour with him, McCoy plans to make a cameo on Black Cards’ single, “Dominos.” He expects to record his verse by the end of the tour.


“This industry has a lot of fake people,” Wentz said. “They’re your friends when you’re hot, but when you’re not hot, they’re not your friends. The fact that Travis is having us on his tour — that means a lot. (He) didn’t have to do that. ... To me, it’s pretty cool that the roles are reversed.”

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