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May 8, 2011

REVIEW: Happy homecoming at Starland Ballroom for My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance has one of the most loyal fanbases in contemporary music. Other groups are punished for making minor sonic or stylistic alterations; the guys in MCR don’t worry about that. When Gerard Way tells his fans to dance, they dance. When he asks for a shout, he gets thousands of voices in unison. If his supporters have a regret, it’s that they lack an extra arm or two to throw in the air at his command. Listeners do this not because they feel bossed around by the flame-haired frontman, but because they love him and his four lovable-goofy mates (five if you count the synth player, and these days, you‘ve kinda got to), and because they’re delighted that at least one modern combo is brave enough, or foolish enough, to shoot for classic rock status. Never mind that the classic rock era allegedly ended three decades ago. My Chemical Romance is banging on the walls of the canon, and the band has an army behind it. If “The Black Parade” ends up on Broadway in fifteen years, alongside revivals of “Tommy” and “The Wall,” don’t be surprised.
At the first of two sold-out shows at Starland Ballroom on Saturday night, My Chemical Romance was welcomed back to New Jersey with a chorus of screams worthy of Beatlemania (or at least Biebermania.) They were greeted with lunatic applause and whistles and serenaded with their own words. They received rapt attention, big smiles, teddy bears, hugs. Well, nobody actually hugged Gerard Way as far as I could see; the band does insist on that rock star separation between the audience and the performers. It’s part of the group’s old-school mystique. But fans were certainly hugging each other. When MCR kicked down the front door of “Teenagers” and stomped through the protest number, it seriously looked from the balcony like crowdsurfers were riding on top of other crowdsurfers. Yes, a triple-layer cake of fans. Three levels of fans were all bouncing up and down like the floor of the Starland Ballroom was a gigantic trampoline. The soundmen were singing along. Security was singing along. If any birds landed on the top of the Sayreville venue during the concert, I’d wager they were singing along, too.
This was the first show back in New Jersey since the release of “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” and My Chemical Romance emphasized the material from the hyperactive set. The band opened with a flamethrower version of “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na,” made like Dead or Alive on the ‘80s-disco “Planetary (Go),” slowed down the pace with the “Head on the Door”-era Cure sound of “Summertime,“ and hammered away at the primal “DESTROYER.” The band aired older hits, too: “Welcome to the Black Parade,” of course, but also a wild-eyed ride through “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and a show-tune singalong on “Mama,” just to name a few. My Chemical Romance now has so much terrific material that the Belleville band can skip a few hits and still deliver a high-energy, no-filler set that’s mercifully short on pyrotechnics. They certainly don’t have to worry about holding the audience’s attention. I don’t think anybody in the capacity crowd looked away from the stage for more than five seconds at any point during the hour-and-a-half concert.
Last week, a self-appointed TV moralist who I won’t dignify by naming did MCR a favor by blasting the band on his show. His disapproval only confirmed what Starland Ballroom already knows: any group that generates this much love is bound to be threatening to starched shirts and professional buzzkillers. My Chemical Romance is a subversive force because the bandmembers actually have ideas of their own, and because when they give voice to teenage frustration, they do so with genuine compassion. Funny thing about young people -- just like everybody else, all they really want is to be taken seriously. Those who still dismiss MCR as a whiny “emo” band of cutters don‘t know what they‘re talking about. These guys are craftsmen -- many of their tunes could have come straight from the Brill Building -- and they’ve created a body of work that’s going to stand for years after they hang up the guitars and go their separate ways. Which, hopefully, won’t be any time soon.

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