My Chemical Romance is now known for its razzle-dazzle, but at one point, the band was the “new, young punk rock.”
Those were Keith Morris' words. You know, the cofounder of Black Flag.
“When they started playing, the whole place just went fucking ape shit,” Morris told us in August,
recalling a show of the New Jersey band that he saw in Los Angeles back in 2004. This time was in stark contrast from the present era, when the band’s name is plastered on the giant screens of arenas named after corporations.
This was also back before the band did a song with Liza Minnelli. But even before that, there was a flamboyance and theatricality to the group that was readily apparent from the get-go. They were cut from the same cloth as other New Jersey emo/pop-punk bands such as Senses Fail and The Early November, and national contemporaries such as Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy, but unlike those bands, MCR recalled the sounds of At the Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World just as much as those of the New York Dolls and Queen.
The eyeliner and flashy funeral attire wasn’t the point. It was their unabashed expression that truly set them apart and made them a singular voice for a generation’s subculture. How well that expression resonated with music listeners was proven by the fact that in Dallas Wednesday night, the band packed American Airlines Center.
This was the band’s first Dallas show in more than a decade. The last time we had the pleasure of seeing Gerard Way and his band was in 2011 when they embarked on a coheadlining tour with Blink-182. Before that, MCR mostly graced us with a stop at the House of Blues and touring festivals such as the Vans Warped Tour and the Projekt Revolution tour.
Times have changed, and while the band’s resurgence to the national spotlight can be largely attributed to a collective nostalgia for the Myspace emo era, My Chemical Romance is now a different band living in a different time.
But completely abandoning the crowdpleasers and going straight for the esoterica simply because you want to is a move that only Bob Dylan and a handful of others are capable of pulling off. If the band hadn’t played hits such as “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” or “Welcome to the Black Parade,” the crowd of restless millennials would have thrown onto the stage Molotov cocktails made from eyeliner and T-shirts for the organization To Write Love On Her Arms.
Mikey and Gerard Way played to a full crowd at American Airlines Center.
Predictably, the band played both these songs, and just as one would expect, the crowd of millennials assisted vocalist Way by singing along.
Yet even though “Welcome to the Black Parade” remained a staple in the band’s catalog for its rock-operatic tendencies and evocation of marching band imagery, the performance of even that song was surprisingly reserved.
In fact, not once throughout the entire hour-and-a-half set did the band come off as anything other than unassuming and grounded. The histrionic nature of their music would make you think their performance would take ownership of every square inch of air within the room, but the band barely even took up that much space on stage.
At 9:25 p.m. on the dot, the band scattered onto the stage, one by one. It seemed a defiant statement against the time-honored tradition of an arena rock band making a grand entrance. They didn’t need a rising platform built beneath the stage or gaudy pyrotechnics to summon enthusiasm from the crowd.
Once the curtain dropped during the breakdown of opener “The Foundations of Decay” and revealed a set backdrop of a city skyline in ruins, the show had already reached its visual peak.
Bombastic displays and a flamboyant set design would have certainly made the room seem bigger and the air more electrifying, but that manner of self-expression is a quality fans associate with music the band put out over 15 years ago.
My Chemical Romance seemed to sincerely value the adoration of the fans and casual listeners who came just to hear the Emo Nite club bangers, and accordingly, they played such numbers without making it seem like a chore. At the same time, the band successfully presented themselves as artists who were far more than just a relic of the 2000s with a novelty fading just as fast as the nostalgia of the era that gave them rise.
The set had its share of crowdpleasers (“Teenagers,” “Helena”) and songs unrecognizable to a casual listener (“Vampire Money,” “Boy Division”) alike, and they were all threaded together with a sense of a fully rounded and matured artistic identity.
Between most of the songs, Way knelt down to a sampler placed beside his mic stand and churned out brief instrumental breaks that were noisy and experimental. It’s as though he was inspired by Throbbing Gristle and Negativland and wanted to channel that as much as possible without alienating the audience. The crowd likely didn’t think anything of it, but it was quite impressive — if Way were so inclined, he could compile those exact instrumental breaks into a 10-minute harsh noise set and get paid $15 for playing them to 20 people in someone’s living room.
Ray Toro played the hits at MCR's Friday show.
My Chemical Romance also appear to be expressing their tastes and sense of curation through the openers selected for this tour. While other bands with a similar platform would have likely chosen one or two polished A&R sweethearts who lucked their way into the music industry by knowing a powerful bigwig, MCR picked over a dozen grassroots artists in which they believed to embark on certain legs of the tour.
For select tour dates, the band paid it forward to New Jersey hometown heroes Thursday and Midtown (the latter of which reunited just for this tour and played in Dallas). Almost all of their dates include two openers, with the first one being some fledgling band that could play Club Dada to 150 people on a good night. Some of these include Youth Code, Dilly Dally, Soul Glo and Surfbort. Dallas was one of three cities to have Philadelphia-based “blackened crust” band Devil Master as the opener’s opener.
The art of curating a worthy slate of tour openers is a lost one, but thankfully, My Chemical Romance has mastered it. Not since Nirvana’s In Utero
tour (which included The Breeders, Shonen Knife, Boredoms, Melvins, Meat Puppets, Half Japanese and the Buzzcocks) has an arena tour shown such superb taste and personality with its lineup curation.
Way even said at a previous show that the band wanted Dallas hometown heroes Power Trip to be one of this tour’s openers, but sadly that offer was never floated by the band before the unexpected death of frontman Riley Gale
"I was so inspired by that fucking dude,” Way said during a May 21 show in Buckinghamshire, England. “I was going to ask at least. They could have said, 'Fuck no,’ which I would have been totally respectful of, but I have a feeling they might have said yes ... They were a great fucking band. Rest in peace, Riley, motherfucker!"
At Wednesday’s Dallas show, Way dedicated the song “Our Lady of Sorrows” to Gale and the other members of Power Trip. It was a truly moving gesture, and that shoutout demonstrated a deep-seated respect not only for Gale, but for the music community from which he originally came.
Way also asked the crowd to wish happy birthday to a crew member named Sam, adding to the overall sense that the group's set was a practicum of decency and class. But no matter how unassuming, the band has still not forgotten how to end a show on a high note.
The second-to-last song of the night, the 2004 single “Helena,” ended with the words, “So long and goodnight.” It was almost a perfect ending to the set, except their actual last song, 2006’s “Cancer,” proved to be an even better closer with its bitter refrain, “’Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you.”
Sometimes a band known for its razzle-dazzle doesn’t need to razzle at all in order to dazzle entirely.
Gerard Way gave a heartfelt shoutout to Dallas band Power Trip.
It was a wild crowd at AAC on Friday.