The news that My Chemical Romance are to return – beginning with a show at Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles on December 20th – is still only just settling in. There was such a sense of finality around the apparent end of the band – who defined a generation – that it seemed unlikely they’d ever walk it back. It’s a gooey soup of competing feelings and emotions. On the one hand there’s the hurt that this was a band in their prime who still had so much to offer; on the other there’s the mass excitement from fans giddy they’re going to get to see them again – or for some, for the first time. Thanks for our Christmas present, Emo Santa!
Live, My Chemical Romance were always a treat. Always evolving, too. We thought we’d trace the band’s live journey via 10 stand out performances. We start at the beginning, right in the mire of the groups punk rock origins. It’s going to be great. *Frank Iero voice* Trust us!
American Legion Hall, Cresskill, New Jersey, USA, Friday, July 5, 2002
This is the earliest My Chemical Romance show it’s possible to watch on the internet. It’s believed that this very energetic, very punk footage is taken from the band’s 20th ever show; the band had only formed the year prior, in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Frontman Gerard Way had been interning at Cartoon Network, where he’d just pitched a show called The Breakfast Monkey (you can find it on YouTube!).
A combination of emotions that can loosely be described as ‘life’s too short’ and ‘I want a voice’ led him to finally form the band he’d been dithering over forming for some time. By the end of the week they’d written their first song, ‘Skylines And Turnstiles’, about the events of that fateful day. “Steel corpses stretch out towards an ending sun, scorched and black,” sings Gerard. “It reaches in and tears your flesh apart. As ice cold hands rip into your heart.”
Maxwell’s, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, Friday, August 16, 2002
Debut album ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’ had been released less than a month prior, and this show – performed at seminal, now-defunct New Jersey venue Maxwell’s (part of the video for Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 single ‘Glory Days’ was filmed there; REM’s Peter Buck used to own a share in the venue) sees the band performing in front of Mikey and Gerard Way’s beloved grandmother Elena Lee Rush. It would be the one and only time Elena would see the band. Within two years she’d be dead, immortalised on the band’s classic single ‘Helena’.
This show is also notable for guitarist Frank Iero’s dreadlocks. Iero’s dreadlocks can date My Chemical Romance performances like rings on tree trunks can date forests. If there are dreads, it was an early one.
Vintage Records, Fords, New Jersey, USA, Tuesday, June 8, 2004
This was an in-store at a local record store to celebrate the release of breakthrough second album, ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’, which had been released the very same day as the band performed this six-song set. More emo than screamo, the inclusion of then new songs ‘Helena’ and ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ would prove to be permanent additions to the set list from thereon in. Frank’s hair is looking better. Gerard’s is looking fine. The singer still isn’t majorly fond of looking at the audience, though.
KROQ Weenie Roast, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, California, USA., Saturday, May 21, 2005
Held by the popular rock station KROQ-FM, the KROQ Weenie Roast has been a summer alt.rock staple since 1993. Bands to have performed in 2005 include the Foo Fighters, The Killers, Interpol and Bloc Party. Sadly, between this juncture and the New Jersey record in-store above, something terrible has happened to My Chemical Romance’s hair. Frank’s looks like he’s had a lobotomy, while Gerard appears to have had a massive pigeon shit in his. He also appears to be wearing a stab vest, despite what looks like scorching heat. Gerard describing beach balls as “the work of the devil” is fun, but really, this was a band in transition. What happened next would change everything…
My Chemical Romance, Hammersmith Palais, Hammersmith, London, UK, August 22, 2006
This was the evening the band announced ‘The Black Parade’ both as album and concept. A sold-out crowd at the long-shuttered, classic London venue (and home of the NME Awards) stood patiently waiting for their favourite New Jersey goth-emo band to begin, only for a discombobulated voice to announce from the heavens that ‘My Chemical Romance will not be playing tonight… but The Black Parade will be’.
Objects are thrown. The crowd becomes one unified boo. The curtain falls. It’s definitely My Chemical Romance, but wearing two-tone, matching marching band jackets and singing songs about having cancer. The band will never play a venue this small – 2000 capacity – ever again.
My Chemical Romance, Palacio de los Deportes, Mexico City, Mexico, Sunday, October 7, 2007
Performances of ‘The Black Parade’ material would continue to get more theatrical as the campaign for said album continued. By this juncture the band had not only wholly embraced the new material – and their new look – but also resembled a bonafide arena band in both sight and sound. It’s clear they’ve been mainlining Queen live DVDs.
Interviews conducted around this time explicitly say as much, but you can also hear the influence of Green Day circa ‘American Idiot’ in their performances. Well, it was Billie Joe Armstrong who convinced Gerard to disconnect the breaks and push his band to be the biggest and most opera-esque they possible could be. At this juncture, My Chemical Romance were the most exciting and – dare we say it? – important rock band around.
My Chemical Romance, Summer Sonic, Chiba Marine Stadium, Chibia City, Japan, Saturday, August 8, 2009
‘The Black Parade’ came within a whisker of destroying the band that wrote it. Too big, too grandiose, it became a machine. One day Gerard Way woke up and realised it wasn’t much cop being labelled the leader of “a suicide cult” by The Daily Mail and being far away from your wife and young child. He decided things needed to change.
At this point, chaos is occurring behind the scenes: members of the band are ill, members are struggling with addiction issues, mental health issues are running rife. Gerard – as he revealed after the band’s split in 2013 – never intended for My Chem to be a band that existed beyond three records. And yet you can clearly see from festival performance in Japan that this is a band in transition. They’re not ‘The Black Parade’ anymore, but closer to the emo-punk band they were of yore, only with ‘The Black Parade’’s great songs now in their arsenal. More had to change, though. And by fuckery it did…
My Chemical Romance, 98.7 FM Penthouse, Hollywood Tower, LA, USA, Friday, January 21, 2011
Long-term drummer Bob Bryar had left the year previous, citing chronic pain in his wrists. The band had tried to replace him, briefly recruited a drummer who stole from them, then decided to keep the drum stool open for session players as and when required. In November that year the band released their fourth album, ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’. It was bright, bold and more Britpop-inspired than by the noir-punk of old. This rare acoustic performance from that time captures a band struggling to know where to go next. And yet this is a band having a very nice time, despite their confusion.
My Chemical Romance, Reading Festival, UK, Friday, August 26, 2011
One of the band’s finest ever moments – and still their final UK performance. Here you get all the songs, no filler, all killer… and then Brian May turns up at the end. Lead guitarist Ray Toro, not a man who you’d describe as especially animated, looks like a competition winner who’s been given free Haribo for the rest of his life.
“We may never get to do this again…” says Gerard towards the beginning of the set, and for years this looked not so much humble as prophetic. But God bless reunions, yeah? 10-year celebration in 2021? Let’s see. And let’s keep Brian May in bubble wrap until then just in case.
My Chemical Romance, Eaton’s Hill Hotel, Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Gerard and co. were still uncertain about the future of the band when a fun run around sunny Australia saw them (and this list) off. It’s nice to see them this way after the slog that ‘The Black Parade’ became. Check out the bright colours and the sassy groove of this performance of set staple ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’.
Just over a year later, on March 22nd, 2013, My Chemical Romance would be gone. Done. Finished. But that’s old news, dudes. My Chemical Romance are back! What treats will their shows hold for us now?