“We don’t talk much anymore. We just rock the fuck out,” explained Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance to a sea of enamored faces at the Hollywood Palladium. And for a bunch of killjoys, the place sure ignited in merriment after he made that proclamation.
But there is something vital and invigorating about MCR’s brand of grown-up pretend. When we last saw the New Jersey/California rock-pop kings, they were adorned in gothic soldiers’ garb, touting themselves as The Black Parade (Reprise). Sharing a name with their bombastic 2006 album, this incarnation of the group eschewed its emo roots and instead emulated Queen. It was the most theatrical punk presentation since Green Day’s American Idiot.
And now, the foursome (all ages 29 and older, mind you) are playing dress up again. This album cycle sees the rockers as laser-toting vigilantes in a dystopian future. Last year’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys tapped into the kinetic energy of America’s post-Dubya youth, all while mashing together Parade’s pomp with the band’s grittier back catalog. It was a feverish cross-pollination of hardcore (“Destroya”) with unabashed cheese (Way commands, “Shut up, and let me see your jazz hands!” in the precariously titled “Na Na Na [Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na.]”).
Though the standard emo-concert uniform is all black, drooped shoulders and excessive eyeliner (on both sexes), at an MCR gig, you’ll see Dia de los Muertos face paint, boys with the same tomato-red tresses as Way’s and t-shirts brandishing the word “Bandit” on them. (That’s a nod to the singer’s two-year-old daughter, Bandit, who celebrated a birthday the night of the May 27th Palladium show. In between a pulverizing set by openers Circa Survive and the 90-minute extravaganza by MCR, fans sang “Happy Birthday” to the little tyke – who wasn’t seen, but was presumably backstage or on the bus with mama LynZ of Mindless Self Indulgence. Way, too, recognized his child’s special day by scrawling a birthday message to her on his arms.)
A My Chemical Romance performance is a celebration of innocence. Certainly, Way’s monologues and lyrics are peppered with the “F” word, but his band worships juvenile pursuits. It isn’t for a lack of maturity but a wish for their admirers to never age bitterly. Before launching into the stirring anthem “Sing”, Way cautioned the mostly teenage and 20-something crowd to deny society the privilege of stripping away their beliefs and convictions. He’d also form his hands into heart shapes and pulsate them toward the audience.
His message for pure hearts resonated in that classical Tinseltown venue. One could see a boy, about seven, hoisted up on his dad’s shoulders, throwing devil horns and mouthing the words to the epic rock ballad “Helena”. Just to the left, a gray-haired gent, who was likely pushing 50, spun himself into a fury during the anti-“Twilight” tune, “Vampire Money”. All were swept up in the immense fun of it all.
Though Way handles the bulk of interaction with the concert-goers, his band mates hold their own. Ray Toro is a mind-blowing guitarist. Again, to reference Queen, Toro’s blazing licks rival that of Brian May’s. Effortlessly, he can go from operatic scales (best exhibited in The Black Parade’s monstrous title track) to throat-crushing mayhem (an older take, “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid”). His prowess really sets MCR apart from your average pop-punk outfit.
Increasingly, the group has infused very non-punk elements to their songs. At the Palladium, keyboards played an integral role in sculpting the sound. James Dewees (also of the Get Up Kids) manned the keys perfectly, taking the lead in the heartfelt “Cancer” … and an off-the-cuff tease of Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie”. Can’t say the guy doesn’t have range.
My Chemical Romance is one day going to be looked back on as one of those classic rock bands who evolved with each release and never got boring. Like the chameleonistic careers of David Bowie or the Smashing Pumpkins, this generation will grow old reminiscing about Gerard Way’s “vampire” era, then his “killjoy” era, et al. But most significantly, the songs will withstand the test of time, all the while remaining a little “danger”ous.