My Chemical Romance proves that emo, and arena rock, is alive and well at the Forum
Last night in Inglewood — on its first of five sold-out shows at the Forum — My Chemical Romance seized the arena, lit it up in red and claimed it for the vampires of Los Angeles.
The New Jersey band first crashed its hearse into the hyper-masculine, Warped Tour punk-o-sphere some 20 years ago, and helped develop the sound and aesthetic for the rock subculture that became known as emo: melodic, anguished pop-rock that delves unflinchingly into heartbreak and trauma.
Along with My Chemical Romance, bands such as Paramore, the Used and Dashboard Confessional — all of whom will perform at this month’s sold-out When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas — took over the rock charts from equally pained but more brutish bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit and became a salve to many millennials coming up in the 2000s. When My Chem announced its dissolution in 2013, the news left its fans even more downcast than they’re usually known to be.
The band, now a trio led by singer Hayley Williams, is set to release its first album since 2017, following mental health and personnel struggles.
Six years later, the band’s one-night-only return to L.A.’s Shrine Exposition Hall in December 2019 inspired emo kids (and adults) from as far as Europe and South America to camp out in the cold on Jefferson Boulevard — and teased what would have been their 2020 reunion tour, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly three years later, the band’s long-awaited return to L.A. kicked off with a theatrical bang fit for a 2022 arena headliner: lead singer Gerard Way shooting off a flamethrower, clad in a vintage cheerleader dress.
“Get up, cowards!” shrieked Way, after a thunderous performance of the band’s first new track in over 8 years, a dirge for an empire down titled “Foundations of Decay.” Original band members Mikey Way (bass) and guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero — along with touring drummer Jarrod Alexander and keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac — fortified their noodly, post-hardcore sound with the furor of ‘80s rock virtuosos, tearing through fan favorites like “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Helena.”
“This is my favorite room in the whole world,” said Gerard, recalling the band’s 2007 show at the Forum in support of their Queen- and Beatles-inspired rock opera “The Black Parade” — now, a certified classic that’s since been paid tribute by acts like Twenty One Pilots and Lil Nas X.
Flanked by a dystopian set design comprising crumbling buildings, a totaled train and concrete rubble, Way traipsed through the wreckage in his cheer uniform. The dress lent a sense of whimsy to his otherwise hair-raising arias from the abyss — calling to mind the minefield that is American gender politics today — and inspired positive screams from young fans, some of whom arrived with rainbow LGBTQ Pride flags or buttons.
In the tradition of their Lodi, N.J., forefathers the Misfits, My Chem wrings the most macabre details from the ragged social fabric of America and spins it into its own fantastical, vampiric lore. It’s what set them apart from the Hot Topic buzz-band circuit when they released their first studio album in 2002, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love.”
A collection of Bush-era horror-punk songs, the band’s debut tapped not just into the general malaise of young punks but the residual, macro-level trauma from the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City. MCR peppered Tuesday evening with several “Bullets” tracks in celebration of its 20th anniversary, including its first recorded song, “Skylines and Turnstiles,” which Way wrote with brother Mikey and guitarist Toro after witnessing the Twin Towers collapse during a morning commute to Manhattan.
The Forum shows will feature songs from every era of the band’s career, from its 2002 debut through its last studio album, 2010’s post-apocalyptic “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.” On Tuesday, though, fans coalesced around one “Black Parade” highlight, “Teenagers.” The song, which Way cryptically dedicated to Quentin Tarantino, still resounds for those who refuse to live traditional lives as straight-laced “cog[s] in the murder machine.”
“Darken your clothes, or strike a violent pose,” shouted the fans along with Way. “Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me!”
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