Review: My Chemical Romance in Portland: Is it too late to do it again?
My Chemical Romance (MCR) rocked Portland’s Moda Center on Sunday, Oct. 2, two years after their scheduled performance in fall 2020. It’s been more than ten years since MCR last played Portland, at the Roseland Theater in 2011, and while they’ve become widely accepted rock legends in the interim, it’s worth asking whether they have anything new to say after all this time. Comeback tours have a tenuous reputation, and it’s easy for veteran rock acts to return only to rest on their laurels. This tour, however, feels like something else.
Electronic body music (EBM) duo Youth Code and scene veterans (former MCR labelmates) Taking Back Sunday (TBS) opened. Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara warmed up the crowd, telling a story in between songs about a “wizard” he met the last time he was in Portland. Though Lazzara noted several times that the audience wasn’t here to see TBS, they clearly had many fans in the audience: their biggest hit, “makedamnsure,” had the stadium singing along. Lazzara made a crack about how expensive bottled water is in stadiums, which was something I also noted. Water is not worth $6.50!
The audience was a diverse crowd, skewed towards 20- and 30-somethings but with gaggles of teenagers and young people with their parents, who were varying degrees of enthusiastic. Dyed hair was common but not strictly required, and a few people were dressed in outfits lead singer Gerard Way used to wear on stage.
Between the openers and the main show, when the stage crew was cleaning up, a spotlight shone on a man vacuuming the stage. Rainbow lights waved around the stage, and the jumbotron flashed a closeup of the man with the caption “MAKE SOME NOISE FOR VACUUM GUY!!!”
Vacuum guy makes a triumphant appearance
MCR came on stage to a noise that would provide transitions throughout the show: a buzzing noise like a swarm of flies, cracks like thunder, and the fuzzed-out feedback of an electric guitar. After opener “The Foundations of Decay,” a curtain dropped to reveal a backdrop of a postapocalyptic, bombed-out city, backlit in red. As the show progressed, more elements of the backdrop came into focus, and during “Sleep,” the last song before the encore, lighting and fog combined to give the illusion of fires and explosions burning in the rubble. Between “Sleep” and “Helena,” an early hit for the band and first song of the encore, a neon sign for a rat exterminator buzzed on.
They closed with Desert Song, a song found only on their 2004 tour documentary. Its obscurity means it wasn’t a singalong song, but for those who know it, it provides a perfect bookend for a reunion show. It’s a song about being in a band, and it’s not a favorable portrait: “from the lights to the pavement; from the van to the floor; from backstage to the doctor; from the earth to the morgue” is a poem to desolation. But comparing the lyrics, written in the throes of depression and substance addiction, to the energy and clear joy of how MCR performs them today is a testament to the hope that life can get better.
Way has worn theatrical outfits some nights of the tour (different ones on different nights--it’s been said he must carry a Party City in his luggage). For Portland, he just wore a t-shirt and jeans and an army green jacket, but the band was as theatrical as ever. Way’s vocals sound healthier and more technically adept than they did for most of MCR’s original run, and his voice would switch from growls fuzzed out using a vocal effects machine Way hovered around, to a charmingly mild speaking voice making comments about having family in Portland and saying something unclear about tomato soup.
Mikey Way, Gerard’s younger brother, strolled across the stage with his glittering bass and shone in the bass lead-in on “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid” and in “Na Na Na.” Rhythm guitarist Frank Iero was somewhat uncharacteristically still on stage, but his playing is as consistently excellent as ever, and he brings clear concentration that draws the eye to him even when he isn’t swinging his guitar over his head. Lead guitarist Ray Toro was the star of the show, though, and the band and their team know it: he tore through solos that he has dressed up and continued to improve since their album releases. He got some of the loudest cheers of the night, excluding the deafening singalongs that the audience took over during the greatest hits. You could see Toro’s smile from the audience.
The crowd sings along to "NaNaNaNaNa"
It isn’t like you can’t tell that time has passed. MCR came back different, and they’re aware of that. Way has joked on stage throughout the tour about the fact that they are all now middle-aged, and mentions the band’s families and children on stage. His own daughter is now a teenager! “The Foundations of Decay,” the only new song they’ve made since reuniting, is about what it means to bring your band back after calling it quits, and about rising from the ashes of a band whose narrative arc was of a group of people doomed to live fast and die young. From their diamond-in-the-rough first album to their sharp-as-knives breakout sophomore album to their magnum opus rock opera, The Black Parade, there was a feeling of simultaneous rise and freefall. Though Black Parade closes (not including the hidden last track) with Famous Last Words, a roaring arena crowd-pleaser about not being afraid to keep on living, and though I love their 2010 follow-up album Danger Days, it felt like they had proved what they wanted to prove, and reached a point of commercial and artistic success that culminated an era for them.
I hope their new era results in an album, because this tour has proved they have a lot to say about what it means to come back to something so big as My Chemical Romance. It would be a waste for a band so clearly re-energized and capable of making new music that fans love not to pursue saying more of what they clearly have to say. What does it mean to survive the gauntlet of fame and come out the other side without your career hinging on proving yourself every night? It means you must, as Way sings, “fix your heart.”
"The Black Parade" brings the crowd to its feet