Gerard Way Goes Solo At Reading And Leeds Festival: Five Things We Learned

“I don’t know if there’s a band that had a history with Reading & Leeds like My Chemical Romance had,” Gerard Way told NME recently. He’s right. As MCR frontman, he’s one of only a handful of artists to play both the Berkshire and Yorkshire sites on the same day. The band also headlined twice and in 2006 had bottles of piss thrown at them. With that kind of history, it’s little wonder he chose Reading as the place to properly launch his solo career, get his blood pumping and debut music from his forthcoming album ‘Hesitant Alien’. Of course, there was a warm-up show earlier this week to 400 fans at Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms, but this festival show was for real.

He was first on the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage, and despite the pre-noon start time, it didn’t stop thousands of fans packing out the tent. His band, The Hormones, came on stage first, all wearing matching white shirts and black skinny ties. They started playing ‘Bureau’, and 30 seconds later were followed by Way, wearing an electric blue suit, and bright red hair. In the recent past he’s talked of his transformation from singer in a band to bona-fide solo star, and he definitely has the look down, as well as the chat. Here’s five things we learned watching Gerard Way tackle his first big solo show.

He’s moved on from My Chemical Romance
Musically he’s made a dramatic change. MCR’s mix of post-hardcore and bombastic alt-rock has gone. In its place has come a much simpler, straightforward brand of rock ‘n’ roll. Way’s likely to be relieved a lot of the band’s fans have made the transition with him. Judging by the number of people singing to singles ‘Action Cat’, first heard as a demo back in 2012, and ‘Zero Zero’, he’s going to be just as loyally followed as his old band were.

No surprise, but as a solo artist he still commands the stage
Within seconds of walking on stage he lifted his left hand in the air, and virtually everyone in the tent followed suit. During ‘Drugstore Perfume’ there were thousands of hands swaying from left to right in time with the music. If the hands went down, he got them back up again. “I won’t ask you again,” he said, “but just one more time, can everyone put their hands in the air?” Once a master of the stage, always a master of the stage.

He’s very polite
Way thanked the fans pretty much between every song. And that doesn’t mean merely saying a quick ‘Thank you’ between songs, it was heartfelt, pointing to a deep respect for the audience. “Thank you for being here this morning and waking up,” he said at one point. “I fucking love you,” he said at another. “I know you guys are going to need your energy for the rest of the weekend, but you got up early to come here. I’ll never forget this.” For his gratitude and good manners, he was rewarded with an audience that cheered through a set mainly comprising unheard songs and a cover of The Jesus And Mary Chain. Speaking of which…

He wasn’t lying when he said Britpop is an influence on his new sound
In his recent interview with NME, he namechecked the likes of Echobelly, Pulp, Supergrass, Lush and Blur. “I frickin’ loved all of them,” he told the magazine’s Dan Stubbs, and it’s there to hear in his solo material. It seems Gerard left out Suede and Mansun from that list too. His songs ‘Drugstore Perfume’ and ‘Get The Gang Together’ could easily appear on Suede’s 1996 album ‘Coming Up’. There’s obviously a musical nod to David Bowie too, which he also spoke of in his interview. “You can look at it and go ‘He’s ripping off Bowie’ but I’ve ripping off Bowie my whole life, so why stop now?”

He wasn’t expecting such a huge reaction
Speaking to NME immediately after walking off stage – visibly overwhelmed and emotional – he said: “It was amazing. I really wasn’t expecting that sort of response. I mean, I could hear some fans before I went on, but the tent was so full straight away and it was a set of new songs but they really got into it. I am very, very lucky. I loved it.”