MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Fellow marchers in The Black Parade: If you are like me, after being blown away last fall by the astounding musical achievement that is My Chemical Romance's latest album, you thought to yourself, 'How are they ever gonna do this live?' The record — art rock meets glam rock meets punk, with a dash of vaudeville — is chock-full of death and hospitals and cancer and soldiers and scary teenagers, and it begs for an over-the-top live show. At long last, the boys have delivered.
After months of teasing us with holiday radio sets and festival dates overseas, the Parade came to life on Thursday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena here — and we actually got two bands in one.
The group's set ended with a blistering half-hour set from MCR as MCR, with the Jersey boys breathing new life into the angst-filled punk songs that defined their first two records.
But for a glorious hour or so before that, the guys donned the costumes of My Chem's macabre alter ego, the Black Parade, to take us through the entire audacious album, from start to finish. Make no mistake: MCR consider the Black Parade to be a distinctly different band.
"The most exciting thing about this tour is that it's the first time you're really seeing the Black Parade as a band. And yet you're never gonna get alienated because you're also gonna get My Chemical Romance."
That's Gerard Way, savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned, speaking at rehearsals the day before the tour launched, clearly excited, yet admitting that fully embracing the concept of this record took some time.
"I think at first we were a little scared of being the Black Parade," he continued. "It was one of those things where we had this really great idea we were really trying to implement, but we weren't ready, I guess, and we were afraid to dive into being the Black Parade all the time" (see "My Chemical Romance Predict Two-Year Tour, Promise 'Something Big' " and "The Parade Begins: My Chemical Romance Announce U.S. Tour Dates").
But dive in they have, and the water's fine. Beginning with "The End." (with Gerard as "the Patient") lying on a hospital bed complete with IV — and not letting up until "Famous Last Words," the show takes you on what guitarist Frank Iero calls "a journey that is the story of the Black Parade." It's a ride into the London blitz/ "Mad Max" mash-up world of the album's artwork and videos, now rendered in eye-popping, arena rock size. There are gloomy cityscapes, a clock tower, distressed sheet metal, floating zeppelins — and of course those band uniforms, topped off with ghoulish white makeup. There's even an extra ghoul on board: keyboardist James Dewees (ex-Get Up Kids/Reggie and the Full Effect), who Gerard introduced as his "big brother."
Somewhere the gods of great '70s rock are smiling as the Black Parade dish out explosions, fog, even pyro, bringing a nice hellish touch to "Mama."
"Our first-ever pyro!" Gerard said. "And we're such jerks that we only use it once. We're just jerks. I mean, who does that? Who brings out all the pyro, pays for all that stuff, and then says, 'Yeah, we'll just use it once'?"
Actually, they used it twice. But what you won't find in the show are dancers, actors or cheesy dramatic interludes. My Chem wisely chose not to go the Broadway-musical route in bringing the Parade to life, though they said that possibility was there.
"The band is not trying to be anything but the band, and the music is speaking for itself," Gerard continued. "There was a point when we were making the record that we were thinking we could have all this extra stuff [on tour], but as a musician you know in your heart that that's not you."
"It's a fine line between having a really good show that will be remembered," Bob Bryar opined, "and letting all that other stuff become the show. I think it's more special if we let the focus always be on us."
"We're so over the top anyway that why would we want somebody else up there hamming it up?" Gerard laughed. "I'm ham enough, you know?"
If so, the fans are eating it up. The crowd here responded in a classic-rock way: with devil horns, waving hands and cell phones in the air on the ballads "Cancer" and "Disenchanted." But best of all was the fist pump: There were plenty of exhilarating, fist-in-the-air, singalong moments on Thursday. In the magnum-opus title track, hardly anyone in the arena missed a word, earning the crowd a shower of black and white confetti. In the rollicking, darkly funny "Teenagers," Gerard trained a spotlight on the crowd. And, of course, when singing along with the line "I am not afraid to keep on living" from the closing "Famous Last Words," it's hard not to put a fist in the air. It's goose-bump time, and these guys have become masters at it.
MCR say that, like never before, they feel they're making an impact with The Black Parade. Or, as Frank Iero puts it, "It feels like we're part of something bigger than one individual person or group or even country — it's like this whole little movement. And that's amazing."
Carry on, boys. Carry on.
Check out John Norris' exclusive interview with MCR about the making of of The Black Parade: "MTV News Raw: A Night at the Opera With My Chemical Romance."