For a band that busted apart nearly a decade ago, My Chemical Romance — the toast of the 21st century’s emo-glam-empowered power-pop crowd — never lost a beat in regards to packing in millennials, and those even younger, to its 2022 reunion tour. Youthful ebullience and loud adoration were immediately noticeable when attending MCR’s Monday night packed-to-the-rafters concert at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, a live showcase postponed for two years due to the pandemic’s slowdown.
Playing to an overwhelming majority of teen (and just-post-teen) faces — many dressed in the New Jersey band’s one-time brand of red and black — singer-lyricist Gerard Way’s school of song was, as always, dedicated to the disenfranchised, the alienated and the outliers. Taken from albums such as 2002’s “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love” and 2006’s “The Black Parade,” each MCR moment of the past spoke to the present-day concerns of mental health, self-awakening and freedom from fear and shame.
In that way, Way (beloved, too, for his authorship of the ultimate-outsider graphic novel, “The Umbrella Academy,” heading into its fourth, and final season at Netflix) is something of a balming messiah, still, to every outcast kid alive who ever felt alone or singled-out. The high-pitched growls, howls and bellows that Way made throughout the racing “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” were therapeutic primal screams. The empathetic rave-up of “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” was dramatic, anthemic and a very real call-to-action for every youth that’s ever felt unheard.
Dressed down for the occasion (Way wore baggy short-shorts, high-top sneakers and a T-shirt reading “Pool Boy at the Vampire Mansion”), MCR saved its usual sartorial dramatics for its raging setlist. Standing before red velvet curtains that dropped to reveal a decimated cityscape, MCR started with the new-ish “The Foundations of Decay” – a slow, Hammer Horror-esque song with willowy, Cure-like guitars that blossomed into a crunch-chunking fast track before its screamo finale.
With original guitarists Ray Toro, Frank Iero, brother-bassist Mikey Way and touring drummer Jarrod Alexander tucking into MCR’s hardcore roots for the riff-heavy, pummel-drummed “Thank You for the Venom” and the flourishes of “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid,” the speeding songs never lacked for intense, contagious choruses and bold, theatrical bridges worthy of a James Bond theme. The gorgeous architecture of a MCR anthem like “House of Wolves” was as strong as it was stirring, filled with curlicue guitar solos, quick time changes and thick rhythms before returning to their neo-emo-core’s first position.
Even at their briefest – for example, “Boy Division” – MCR manages to pack in more theatricality, harmony and melody into three minutes than anyone else. Such levels of grandeur, tunes-manship and high conceptualism were on fullest display during the piano-led, military-drummed “Welcome to the Black Parade” and its immediate follow-up, “Mastas of Ravenkroft.”
But the grandest of all theater remained between the band and its audience on Monday night. When he wasn’t busy pushing his sweaty mop-top from his face or bouncing across the stage, Way was interacting with the Wells Fargo’s devoted, conducting their reactions like a maestro with waving arms. He smirk-smiled precociously as he positioned his microphone toward the crowd during “Famous Last Words” and the raunchy, rarely performed “Vampires Will Never Hurt You.”
As he slinked his way through the back-to-boogie, snake-charming “Teenagers,” Way sang reminiscings of youth and the awkward prejudices he felt as a kid.
They said, “All teenagers scare the living shit out of me
They could care less as long as someone’ll bleed”
So darken your clothes or strike a violent pose
Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me
As Way embraced the lyrics of “Teenagers” from 2006, cleanly cackle-crooning in his manner through its us vs. them theme and its richly chugging pulse, the singer was embracing the black parade of kids in front of him in 2022, clutching them to his breast. And thus devotion was shared, communally, between the crowd and their Chemical Romance. If “emo” truly stands for emotion in its punk-iest fashion, then My Chemical Romance — 20 years after its start — should hang onto that tag forever if Monday’s show was any indication.