My Chemical Romance fans are all grown up, but creaking knees and kids in tow are not going to stop them rocking out. It’s been 13 years since the band last played on British soil and these reunion shows were delayed by two years because – well, you know why. It’s been a long wait for fans but it all proves worth it on a Monday night in the depths of Cornwall when the band take to the stage in the gorgeous Eden Project.
Casually slinking out in jeans and T-shirts, they seem completely at home, the theatrics of their early videos nowhere to be seen except, perhaps, in the crashed bus and derelict buildings that make up their backdrop. And, of course, in the music, which is still as melodramatic as it ever was. Gerard Way’s voice has a kind of vulnerability to it, a slight wobble that suggests that it might break at any second. Though there’s the occasional bum note and words that escape him, his screams are as anguished and as heartfelt as ever.
The set has a freewheeling vibe. Songs that have never been played live get their first outings amid the big hitters. Current single “Foundations of Decay”, on which singer Way does his best Bowie (if Bowie were born in the 90s), goes down an absolute storm, proving perhaps that it’s not just nostalgia that keeps people coming back.
Time is a strange beast and I’d wager it will be on the minds of many people seeing My Chemical Romance over the next few weeks. The band’s early albums in particular were a kind of coming of age concept project, and here they are, those people, of age. To hear a crowd of adults screaming “Teenagers scare the living shit outta me” for the first time since they were the teenagers is a moment to give you pause. “I’ve seen them 14 times,” a friend tells me, and all I can think about is how the person who saw MCR 14 times is gone, aged into this man with all the marks and scars that life has left him with. For others here, the changes are bigger, more obvious: gender, parental status, losses and gains of money, people, weight. To see peoples’ kids silhouetted atop shoulders during the closing song – “The Kids From Yesterday” – is a poignant and heartwarming way to end the show.
The generation whose adolescence was first soundtracked by My Chemical Romance has been stuck in a strange kind of stasis. The last 13 years have seen a crumbling of the norms; sometimes for the better but sometimes to the point where you don’t have a hope of buying your own home unless you have family money or are in a particularly lucrative accident versus a lamborghini. We were sold an idea of what life should be; that you grow up and get married and have kids and buy a house, work for 40 years with steady wage increases then retire and, sure, die at some point. Yes, many of us made decisions to reject that sort of life, but even those living an unconventional lifestyle know how completely unachievable some of those basic needs have become. The result is a generation in a kind of arrested development. The things we needed MCR for in 2006 – to parse the feelings of unfairness, of the world being against us – are the same things we need them for now.
Music is a thread that tethers us to the past. But there are current teenagers and young kids here, enjoying their first forays into eyeliner; clearly what drew early-00s teens to the band is still a potent force among young people in 2022. The curdling of intense hormonal feelings into swaggering rock and wildly over-the-top lyrics about coming of age is the same energy that keeps adults returning to high school movies. Your teens never really leave you, after all, and “I’m Not Okay” will never not be a huge, heart-busting banger.
Though in 2022 alone, we have seen a resurgence of a kind of pop-punk-emo-hybrid from the likes of Willow, Machine Gun Kelly and Olivia Rodrigo, this kind of music never really went away; it lingered on Tumblr, and in Spotify playlists and IRL gatherings as times changed and the disaffected youth changed with them. Subcultures like emo – a tag Gerard Way has rejected but that is still, I think, the best descriptor for a band that deals in all-consuming emotions – thrive outside of big cities. Clans of black-clad kids congregating around local monuments, relieved to have found each other and hanging on to each other for dear life.
Standing in the grounds of the Eden projects, illuminated biomes rising behind the stage and craggy cliffedges climbing around us as people hold each other, punch the air and sing into each others faces, I find it bizarre to think that this is a band who were once blamed for founding “self-harming emo cults” and suicide panics. This feels like such a wholesome and loving show. It’s polite, it’s fun and it’s scented by fresh grass instead of stale beers. And commanding it all are My Chemical Romance, happy just to be here and to offer us a moment to stop the hands of time.
Kate stayed at the YHA Eden Project for this piece.