My Chemical Romance’s big comeback wasn’t meant to be like this. Having ended their six-year hiatus in December 2019 with their enormous return at LA’s Shrine Expo Center, the emo superstars should have spent the next 12 months striding about the stadia of the US, UK and Europe as reborn legends. As millennial punk’s most anticipated reunion, it was a doozy, too big to fail.
Except, obviously, it wasn’t quite. After a two-year, locked-down wait, ahead of this week’s three-night stand at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes, instead of beginning their march round the world with a Pacific Rim tour, this most vital act of the 2000s made their blockbusting return to proper touring in wildest Cornwall at The Eden Project.
In fact, they could have done a lot worse. Monday night may have meant trekking up perilous country roads to the venue for some (“Is it the ultimate emo thing to get killed on the way to the show?” asks one fan), but with its verdant greenery and sheer cliffs, Eden Project is nevertheless a fantastic setting in which to reinstate oneself.
The last time the UK saw My Chem was headlining Reading in 2011, an occasion at which they were flanked by no less a figure than Brian May, and appeared as the larger-than-life personalities from their Danger Days… album. Monday night’s gig was a much more pared-back, almost casual affair.
Treating the 6,000 gathered fans to a clear 10 minutes of pulsing electronic noise before taking to the stage, they opened with the slow-burning (and brilliant) new track The Foundation of Decay, rather than coming screaming out of the traps with a triumphant hit. No uniforms, no fireworks, it was a subtle but powerful re-introduction.
But in some ways, this was My Chem returning as the band they were before they exploded the first time: a thrilling punk outfit with a charisma and magnetism, and a clutch of brilliant songs that mixed the ambition of Bowie and Queen with the venom of the underground. Rather than grandstanding, the drama of Helena, the raucous hardcore of Give ’Em Hell, Kid, and You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison’s gutter flamboyance all bled with their original, black-eyed charm, free of fuss and with the energy of their days playing DIY punk venues. Creditably, they also dropped in a weight of deeper cuts like the first-ever live airing of Boy Division, unafraid to challenge themselves on what could have been a very easy win.
Accordingly, frontman Gerard Way is much more understated than one might expect. “I need a hairbrush,” he announced in his bashful tones at one point, and told the lighting engineer he’s “Gonna make me self-conscious”. “Did you hear that last note?” he grinned after Famous Last Words. “What a turd.”
But the voice-of-a-generation connection was still there. The adolescents who “Scare the living s--t out of me” from the irony-laden, Bugsy Malone-ish anti-violence anthem Teenagers may now be largely over 30, but My Chemical Romance are still very much a band for the lonely, the dispossessed, the misfits. Welcome to the Black Parade was met with an impassioned singalong, with its defiant declaration that “We’ll carry on” still striking a powerful, resonant chord.
Not an explosion of a return, then, but nor was it intended to be. Almost a decade since they last graced these shores, with more cool and less fuss, My Chemical Romance 2022 have come back with more than nostalgia: at heart they’re still as vital and evocative as they were when they first exploded.
Touring the UK and Ireland until late May; mychemicalromance.com