Words by Weronika Koleda // Photos by Rachel DiLouie
“It’s been ten fucking years since I’ve been seeing your face ’round here…”
My Chemical Romance’s homecoming proved to be a long time coming. The first of two sold out nights at the Prudential Center in Newark marks an entire decade since MCR took the stage in their home state of New Jersey; the band last graced the stage here at Bamboozle in 2012, a final spark from the fire’s embers before the flame fully went out in 2013. Now in the middle of their returning North American leg, MCR has had fans across the internet spinning theories and manifestations weeks prior to their first night back in Jersey. After conspiracies of the catalyst to MCR, “Skylines and Turnstiles”, returning to the setlist on their September 11th Brooklyn show rang true (in addition to the earth-shattering reprise of the heart-wrenching B-side “Desert Song”), everything was on the table for what awaited us in New Jersey. And something was definitely in the air that night.
Flashing lights and swarming static erupted within the main hall of the Prudential Center as everyone in the building (and those live streaming from home) collectively held their breaths, hearts palpitating, yearning for MCR to emerge from the fog clouding the stage. Roars from the crowd erupted as Ray Toro, Mikey Way, and Frank Iero took their respective places on stage right and stage left. In this moment, eyes squinted desperately into the shadows for Gerard Way. Turning away from the drumhead, Way came into full view as they approached the mic, the opening chords to “Foundations of Decay” filling the room. Gerard was a beacon at center stage, donning a black skin-tight bodysuit that hugged their body, a batwing cape cloaked over their shoulders, a pair of Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses hiding his eyes, and showstopping thigh-high platform boots. The drumhead was graffitied in dripping paint – “OFF LEASH” it said.
There is an overwhelming sense of ecstasy that’s emitted from Way every night they grace the stage, a newfound freedom that surpasses anything he carried on his shoulders over the course of their two decade career. Gerard has long been admired as a queer icon in the eyes of fans young and old alike. Connecting with the feminine has long been a sentiment of Way’s as they have previously discussed their feelings regarding their gender identity and lack of connection with aggressive masculinity. Blowing up in the early 2000s, the absence of a mainstream language for gender identity and overall scrutiny in the scene harbored a difficult place to access a genuine sense of freedom that Way made up for with stage personas and elaborate characters. Taking into account this context, witnessing Gerard dress in bodysuits, crop tops, and dresses over the course of this tour is a flicker of gender euphoria that resonates with fans across the globe.
When Gerard walked onto that stage wearing a cape and platform boots, it’s because they felt entirely comfortable doing so, they felt like themselves wearing this. Way has fully embodied their androgyny so genuinely, showcasing to the kids in the crowd that being gender nonconforming and happy is fully achievable at 45. This time, there was no character to hide behind, no expectation to live up to. In 2022, Gerard and the entirety of My Chem are setting their own expectations – making their own rules – because this tour is as much for them as it is for us. MCR are not catering to flashy cash-grabs, excessive stage production, or even unnecessary promotion; everyone who is meant to be there already understands.
Without a new album cycle to promote, My Chem have taken it upon themselves to carve out every night’s setlist as a love letter to the past, and a celebration of the present. The evening’s setlist was occupied by the beloved anthems we all know and love, including “I’m Not OK (I Promise)”, “Teenagers”, “Na Na Na”, “Welcome to the Black Parade”, and “Helena” – Frank Iero, however, made it clear that this was no nostalgia tour. Rather, the changing collection of songs heard every night serve to continuously challenge the musicians, allowing them the freedom to rearrange songs over a decade old in a way the band would write them today. These songs are living and breathing, they have changed with us as we evolved through time.
A particular track that was brought back to life produced an intense fervor from the front to the back of the venue. After a few fans camping outside reported that MCR had been soundchecking the song, “I Never Told You What I Do for a Living” officially returned to the setlist for the first time since 2008. Hearing Gerard wail “I tried” from the song’s bridge with such intensity struck a chord with every heart in the room. There was something so beautiful about listening to the room sing “And we’ll love again, we’ll laugh again/We’ll cry again and we’ll dance again”. A song that originally illustrated a tragic end in death felt recontextualized into a hopeful rebirth. MCR may have been dead and gone, but here we all were again, laughing, crying, dancing.
As much as every fan in the audience clearly internalized every emotion that swelled within the room, there was no doubt the band on stage were feeling it too. In addition to Gerard finding his wings on stage, it’s just as refreshing to see their brother Mikey absolutely beaming. Formerly known as a quieter and shy presence on stage, Mikey Way was all smiles as he exchanged hand hearts with the crowd and strutted up and down the barricade. Usually the last to leave the stage every night, Way is triumphant as he lifts his bass up into the air. Frank Iero is in the fucking zone every show, his chronic pain from severe injuries to his wrists and shoulder appearing to dissipate. With no doubt, Iero would shred until all his limbs fell off. Ray Toro is a shining light that puts his entire soul into his guitar, the crowd exploding during solos performed during “Teenagers”, “Not OK”, and “Kids From Yesterday”. Between sips of red wine, Toro slays through every song as if it were his last.
“I haven’t been to New Jersey in a really long time. I miss all the people here, I miss all the family here. It’s been a long time for some of us, right? I wanna go back to Belleville and just take a drive around, I haven’t seen it in so long,” Gerard paused before jumping into the next song. There was a soft longing in Way’s voice as they took a moment for reminiscence. Between sporadic grunts and gravelly vocalizations that seem to naturally burst from his chest over the duration of the show, Way always addresses the crowd with the warmth of an old friend who can’t help but fall into anecdotal tangents mid-sentence. There’s so much they want to tell you, especially the most mundane parts of the story.
My Chem paid homage to their origins in the warm embrace of their hometown with “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”, the track that first launched the band onto the airwaves in 2002. “This Is The Best Day Ever” also made its way into the night’s set, this time with a surprise feature from Thursday’s Geoff Rickly. Earlier in the evening, Gerard had joined openers Thursday on stage, lending his black metal screams once again to “Jet Black New Year”; it felt only right that Rickly returned the favor, belting out “Someday!” in unison, 20 years since his production on “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love”. “Thursday means a hell of a lot to us, means a hell of a lot to New Jersey,” Gerard paid their respects to the band that helped start it all. And so the pupils have become the teacher.
The biggest left turn of the show awaited the audience within the encore, a nightly nail-biter for fans conspiring what deep cuts will emerge from the vault. As the light plucking of guitar strings eerily filled the tension in the room, thousands of jaws dropped at the sound of Gerard singing “Hand in mine, into your ice blues”. For the first time since 2004, My Chemical Romance delivered a stunning performance of “Bullets” closer “Demolition Lovers”. Its inclusion on the setlist also marked the first time ever all four album closers (“Demolition Lovers”, “Never Told You”, “Famous Last Words”, “Vampire Money”) were played in a single show. Many had long expressed their doubts regarding “Demolition Lovers” rising from the ashes, even Iero diminished fans’ suspicions via Twitter on June 6th stating that “it takes rehearsal time to relearn songs & especially with the older stuff to bring it up to the caliber of the current band. Some translate better than others but nothing is impossible.” And yet here we were, a mere three months later, and everyone who believed they would never hear this song live crooned “All we are is bullets, I mean this” in sync with Gerard.
There is something truly magical about not only this particular evening in New Jersey, but every show on this tour, a sentiment resembling gratitude and perseverance. It’s the idea of “we made it” that lingers in the air at an MCR gig. A 2014 Kerrang! article seemed to solidify that an MCR renaissance would never see the light of day, Gerard proclaiming “I don’t think My Chemical Romance is supposed to happen again. I think it’s supposed to stay beautiful forever; it’s a beautiful thing. It’s supposed to die young in the car wreck, is what it is.” Looking back now, we can all say we made it out of the car wreck–charred and scared–but very much alive, and oh so beautiful. Way captured the feeling succinctly when introducing “The World is Ugly” that evening, “it’s about an ugly fucking world staying beautiful no matter how ugly it gets.”
MCR’s reunion tour is best defined by its mutual exchange of love between the band and the fans. It’s present in the way Gerard takes time every night to check in with the crowd or pause the show to ensure our safety, to make room when someone falls. It’s present in the way My Chem plays rarities they know mean everything to the kids tearing up at the sound of them. It’s present in the way fans echo “You’re beautiful!” during “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid”. It’s present in the way Gerard lets the crowd scream “You should have raised a baby girl, I should’ve been a better son” during “Mama”. My Chem is reaching their hand out to us and we’re holding on for dear life.
A My Chemical Romance show in 2022 feels like victory. For a band that for its entire career has essentially become the poster child for death and depression, this incredibly joyous rebirth of MCR is nothing short of a transformative milestone. A discography painted with murder and suicide now stands as a testament to what we have overcome, it is a reminder of the worst parts of our lives, the worst parts of ourselves that we learned to forgive. It’s time we hold ourselves with a bit more grace, allow a softness back into our hearts. Gerard said it best in “Foundations”, “you must fix your heart/ And you must build an altar where it rests.” Gone is the idea that we all go out as martyrs; in its place is healing light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s the quintessential moment during “Famous Last Words” that speaks for all our lived experiences. The moment Gerard turns the microphone to the crowd, a chorus of thousands leaves these words reverberating from those walls in New Jersey forever, “I am not afraid to keep on living, I am not afraid to walk this world alone.”
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE IS STILL ON TOUR, CATCH THEM AT A CITY NEAR YOU