I still remember where I heard My Chemical Romance for the first time: it was in a rundown supermarket car park in 2006 – nondescript enough to remain unmemorable if it weren’t for that day’s particular soundtrack – just as The Black Parade took the band from New Jersey to the world, and as British radio stations started falling over themselves to herald this truly original and mystifying sound.
I was extremely taken with those first operatic flourishes in “Welcome to the Black Parade”; when the song then exploded into frenetic life, I buzzed on the wholehearted energy hissing from my father’s dusty Ford Focus radio. I immediately connected to something that felt momentous, special, but, at that initial moment, I couldn’t explain what it was.
That car park where I first heard My Chemical Romance for the first time in 2006 was located in a struggling Scottish New Town just outside of Glasgow, a year and place that was still defined by hypermasculinity, where football tribalism was currency and I was an anxious child on the precipice of his first year of high school, fully unaware of his proper place in the world.
An emotive band like My Chemical Romance, then? In the groups I occupied at the time, admitting to liking them was akin to playground death, replete with disturbingly personal insinuations. Joining a high school where even the appearance of “trying” in a subject like English Literature was cause for character obliteration in the boys’ P.E. changing room, I ignored this heart-on-their-sleeve band, choosing instead to mock those “outcasts” with the individuality and daring to advocate for their talents far before I could; how I was so secretly fucking jealous of them.
These “outcasts” existed in a world completely different from mine at said high school: whether during a break, or in class, they gathered closely together, adhering to the same aesthetic, sharing the same passions, backing each other up no matter what. I spent the majority of the years 2007-2012, meanwhile, arguing over football scores, girls that really didn’t like myself or my friends, and Indie Landfill bands like The Vaccines, an altogether dull and replicable existence.
So, it is with the deepest shame and, really, embarrassment that I remained a My Chemical Romance agnostic for many more years than I should have. Because, for all of their rock opera magnificence and exquisite conceptual brilliance, what, I think, really makes My Chemical Romance a generational band is the sense of intrinsic and invaluable community.
At Tāmaki Makaurau’s Outerfields on Saturday night, that was there for all to see: a mass of worshippers arrived passionately but patiently, mostly gathered, unsurprisingly, in black garments, waiting to offer adoration to four people who meant the world to them.
And “waiting” was what they’d really had to do, with Saturday’s concert taking place after several years of COVID-induced delays. Many fans went so far as to camp outside the venue 24 hours before the concert in order to secure the best view. It’s a narrative that again lends itself to some semblance of “spirituality”, for many of the people I spoke to had approached the Outerfields site from the breadth and depth of Aotearoa. One girl, who later disappeared into the huddled masses near the front of the stage, described arriving on a flight from Christchurch that very morning alongside several dozen other MCR acolytes, all already wearing their concert clothing despite the youthfulness of the day.
Huge screens beside the stage urged the crowd to treat everyone beside them with kindness, but it was a superfluous message, because this was thousands of people united by a shared purpose. Again, one is loath to use the word “spiritual”, but on Saturday night, as soon as Gerard Way took to the stage, he occupied the role of leader, healer, idol, whatever form each person in the crowd needed him to take.
He performed both within and outwith himself, silent at intervals, a shrieking mess during songs, a wholly unblushing artist committed to everything he was doing. On such a massive stage, in front of such an expectant crowd, Way’s way didn’t feel ingratiating; instead, this was a man seized by his music, overwhelmed by his mission.
When his intense facial expression wasn’t emblazoned on the big screens, every glimpse of the rest of the band – Ray Toro, Gerard’s brother Mikey, and Frank Iero – doing their own concentrative thing was greeted with genuine fanfare.
After a towering start with last year’s theatrical single “The Foundations of Decay”, the band sprinkled their set with acclaimed anthems and fan favourites. “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” was an early highlight, prompting furious singalong howls from thousands; “Teenagers” brought many sprinting back from the alcohol stalls, spilling newly-bought drinks, wishing to be just that bit closer to a song of their childhood played up close for the very first time.
I stood in the middle of the crowd as it all unfolded, behind what I thought were the truly fervently-devoted fans (a lesson from my late Catholic grandmother: always sit in the back at church if you know the people in front need it more than you) and ahead of those probably there for just a good time. Where I stood, looking at people of all ages on the verge of tears, singing lyrics like their life depended on it, I felt pangs of regret, visions of teenage years that could have been so much different if pretension and cultural constriction hadn’t forcibly collided.
But mostly – I promise – I felt happier for those around me who had waited so long for this moment, and who would never forget this Saturday night. Because, really, it could be an inordinate amount of time until My Chemical Romance perform in Aotearoa again, even if the band themselves will still exist in the minds of those at Outerfields for a while longer: “How wrong we were to think / That immortality meant never dying”.
My Chemical Romance’s tour moves on to Australia, with dates in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Ticketing information is available via Live Nation.