The first thing you can say about My Chemical Romance fans, they show a dedication to their idols not seen in a youth movement since the heady days of the Hitlerjugend. Upon approaching The Apollo we were greeted by a queue matched only in size by that seen outside a Rochdale job-centre on giro day. It snaked around the edge of the building, past the pub already swollen with drinkers, and around the car-park to rest its tail at the bottom of Marshall St. There was evidence that some of the more voracious fans had been camping outside, swaddled in duvets and oversized black hoodies. It was a fitting sight considering the tenacity of MCR’s fan-base, who made headlines two years ago by protesting against The Daily Mail for making what was perceived to be a judgmental and knee-jerk response to a young MCR fan’s suicide. The entire episode was a wonderful show of unity by a culture not prone to media coverage, save for the aforementioned Daily Mail scare-mongering (who, in a typically sensitive opinion piece, described emo conversation as ‘sighing, wailing, poetry’).
Ah, emo. There is a word I didn’t want to explore until later in this screed, yet it is a term now linked inexorably with the band itself. It is a curious pejorative, seeing as it is usually the emotional core of a song which defines its artistic merit, yet in some circles saying that you like My Chemical Romance is tantamount to admitting that you like raping dogs. I like MCR, well I like the first album, and a bit of the second, or at least I did, before all my time was taken up by dog fucking, and I sense that much of the ire directed at them stems from the release of their truly abysmal single ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’. Yes, that was a shit song, and succeeded in driving me away from its parent album more than any newspaper article about the dangers of goth suicide cults ever could. That was four years ago however, and cuts can heal (though they can sometimes scar, and may reopen. Fuck me, this metaphor has legs). Since then MCR have been pretty busy; first they went on an extended tour which seemed to last for seven thousand years and gave birth to the live effort The Black Parade is Dead!, meanwhile front-man Gerard Way began writing the fun if derivative comic book series The Umbrella Academy. Next they did a cover of the Dylan song ‘Desolation Row’ which was Not Very Good. Then at some point they lost their drummer under completely irrelevant circumstances and finally in September they released the video to ‘Na Na Na (Na etc.)’, the first single from their upcoming Danger Days album. Wonderful thought I, because the song, rather than being complete dreck, is only partly so. Maybe MCR have kept their promise of releasing a rawer, rockier album more akin to their first offering, maybe.
Anyway, that is how I found myself drinking a bottle of Hoegaarden outside the Apollo and idly watching the progression of the queue. There is a stereotype of a typical My Chemical Romance fan which runs as thus; they will have a gaunt, pale appearance, all dark eye-shadow and sable fringes cascading down their face so as not to lend rent the pain that roils in the murky sepulchre of their soul, they will be dressed in black, they will self-harm, and invariably every single one of them will be a fourteen year-old girl, probably actually called Sable. There is the stereotype, not one that I have ever personally ascribed to, and so it was with a shock that I discovered the majority of the MCR crowd to be young girls, I suppose some stereotypes exist for a reason. Alongside the young ladies and looking hilariously bemused strode their parents, some of whom were clearly rock-veterans whilst others looked like they were about to drop their kids off to their weekly bassoon practice. I love to make wild generalisations, so I best state that there was also a sizable contingent of your average gig-goer as well, drinking, smoking and seemingly having a rare old time. There was also, curiously, five or six older individuals who looked like they had just walked out of The Hacienda circa 1989, complete with the tell-tale MDMA face-twitch. Many of the fans had adopted the style of the band’s new image inspired by comic-books and kabuki; brightly coloured masks and hair dyed a stark red.
Christ, over 750 words in and the music hasn’t even started yet. To save you, gentle reader, from descending into a narcoleptic stupor I’ll skip past MCR’s support act The Twin Atlantic (which is fortuitous as they were so wholly unremarkable the only detail I can recall is that they were Scottish, and played music) and get into the meat of things. I’ve only seen My Chemical Romance once before and that wasn’t even as a punter. It was 2007 at T in the Park and I was monumentally pissed off because I was a steward in front of the stage when Babyshambles had sprung up to transmogrify the crowd into an aching sea of cretinism. MCR were a gentle relief after that, but I was too busy grabbing crowd-surfers and praying for a zombie outbreak to concentrate on their performance, although I did pass by guitarist Ray Toro backstage afterwards and he said ‘hello’. Relentless tales of pulse-pounding rock and roll fraternizing aside then, I didn’t really know what to expect. MCR’s songs have always been bombastic and flamboyant, displaying a sound cinematic aesthetic that lies somewhere between the baroque lyricism of Davis Grubb’s Night of the Hunter and the works of Tim Burton, or, to put it even less succinctly, like Iron Maiden covering the entire soundtrack of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (an idea I have officially copyrighted and will be putting into production later this century). So I was expecting costume changes, black confetti, and acrobats on fire. Fortunately what we got was considerably less spectacular. The backdrop displayed the band’s recurring motif for their latest incarnation, a jagged-legged spider over a union flag, whilst placed thoughtfully on one of the amps was a single motor-cycle helmet, referencing the video to ‘Na Na Na’, which they played first. This is a perfect opener; fast, loud, snottily energetic, and the crowd responded as such, kind of. My memory at gigs tends to be negligible at best, my journalistic integrity even less so, so I can’t remember the exact set-list. I soon found myself baffled by many of the songs, having never listened to The Black Parade, thus becoming one of those guys you see in the crowd stood lamp-post straight and staring directly forward like he wants to kick off with the scenery, occasionally nodding his head at completely the wrong moments. I also became painfully aware of a shrill piercing noise somewhere behind me and to the right. Something had taken it upon herself to screech every single lyric directly into my cochlea, presumably because she was affronted by my lack of kowtowing to the band’s genius. Soon I found myself indulging in a series of violent and despicably misogynistic fantasies and zoned out of the corporeal plane entire and into a world based solely on the collision between the sharpest point of my elbow and the girl’s undulating throat. I was able to move forward and out of her vicinity and came upon another aural problem, the sound itself was terrible. Both guitars seemed to rub against each other and form a kind of sonic mush, which was a shame, considering the sometimes rather complex and intricate work found on the albums. Technical issue this may be, but it was still adding to the sense of displacement I felt from the rest of the crowd. For their part the band played well and with a great sense of heart, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was just another routine performance for them. Eventually I settled into that same groove you may feel at a festival whilst watching a band in the middle of the day that you neither know nor care about. I listened, I clapped, I occasionally chanted, but I never really felt a part of the gig. This was more the audience’s fault than the band’s, and I imagine that in a smaller venue, with a much more draconian age restriction, I might just have had a good time.