Gerard Way was about to sing “The Kids from Yesterday.” First, though, he had a question for the kids of today.
Standing onstage Friday night at the Shrine Expo Hall — where the frontman had reconvened his highly influential emo band, My Chemical Romance — Way asked how many people in the audience were seeing the group for the first time. When more hands shot up than he appeared prepared for, he asked again, then described his amazement in a series of colorful phrases that can’t be repeated here.
Way’s surprise seemed genuine enough. But really he should’ve expected the response.
Sufficiently beloved in its heyday to sell more than a million copies of a gloomy rock opera called “The Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance has only grown in stature since the New Jersey band played what had been its final show in 2012, after which the members drifted apart to focus on other projects. Nostalgia for emo — the dramatic and proudly emotional punk music whose popularity crested a decade ago — has helped frame the group, which openly addressed depression and suicide, as a pioneer in changing attitudes about mental health.
More important, My Chem (as the band is known among its fans) is regarded as a key inspiration to a generation of young singer-rappers — including the late Lil Peep and Juice Wrld, who died this month at age 21 — who blend emo’s plaintive confessions with scrappy but catchy hip-hop beats. Add Way’s work as a co-creator of “The Umbrella Academy,” a best-selling comic book recently adapted by Netflix, and it’s no wonder “The Black Parade” was certified triple platinum at the end of 2017, more than 11 years after the album’s release.
So of course My Chem, like countless acts with far less claim to modern relevance, has reunited to soak up some of that enduring adoration — and quite a bit of cash — on the road. Friday’s show, which sold out more or less instantly, came before a handful of dates scheduled next year in Japan, Australia and New Zealand; the group is also widely expected to appear alongside a reformed Rage Against the Machine at Coachella, where high-profile rock reunions are never unwelcome.
But if the thousands of first-timers in the house demonstrated a clear demand — ditto the brisk sales of a $150 satin bomber jacket that read RETURN across the front — My Chem’s performance didn’t answer the question that any band back in action must engage: Why has it returned?
With Way on vocals, his younger brother Mikey on bass and guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro — as well as a pair of non-founders in drummer Jarrod Alexander and Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards — the group opened strong with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” the thrilling arena-goth anthem from its breakout album, 2004’s “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” This was My Chem at its contradictory best: a heavy pop song about despair that somehow channeled the feeling of triumph, not just for the guys onstage but for everyone in the crowd who roared along word for word with Way. (Speaking of the crowd, Friday’s was impressively diverse in terms of race and gender, an encouraging result of emo’s long-tail afterlife.)
From there, the band careened through highlights and the occasional deep cut from its catalog, including the speedy, Iron Maiden-meets-Misfits “Our Lady of Sorrows,” from its 2002 debut, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love”; “Mama” and “Teenagers,” two theatrical glam-cabaret jams from “The Black Parade”; and “Summertime,” one of the tender synth-pop love songs that My Chem — whose frontman at the time had just become a dad — offered up on its final studio album, 2010’s “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.”
It all sounded good, with still-taut grooves and still-sharp hooks. And it illuminated the debt owed My Chem by admirers such as Twenty One Pilots and Halsey, the latter of whom posted an Instagram video of herself at the show captioned “the best night of my entire life.” (Another celebrity in attendance Friday was, uh, Jon Cryer.)
Yet beyond the gratification Way and his mates took in reviving their band for fans too young to have seen it last time — perhaps the most viable path to mainstream success for a rock act in 2020 — it wasn’t obvious what precisely they were getting out of the experience. And that felt awfully strange for a group whose old gigs nearly always seemed to vibrate with life-or-death intensity.
“Thank you for waiting around for us for all those years,” Way said in his spiel before “The Kids from Yesterday,” which closed the band’s main set. An even-keeled “Danger Days” cut about how “you only hear the music when your heart begins to break,” the song here was essentially a remembrance of a remembrance — and not, it seemed, what the crowd was yearning to hear.
But then My Chem came back for an explosive encore with two of its biggest, most fist-pumping hits — “Helena” and “Welcome to the Black Parade” — along with a relative obscurity about giving the kids what they want. It was called “Vampire Money.”