A few months ago, I excitedly forwarded an email to one of my childhood best friends about a music festival in Atlanta. After being delayed by financial issues for six years, Music Midtown was set to return with a bang, featuring an incredible lineup over the course of three days. Most importantly, headlining the event would be one of my all-time favourite bands — a band that carried me through the tumults of high school, the trials of chemotherapy, and the general angst of being a human being in this world. That’s right, after a ten-year hiatus, My Chemical Romance was coming back.
Started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, then-cartoonist Gerard Way quit his job to found My Chemical Romance, a band meant to be more than a band. By 2013, the band disappeared from the public eye, stating that Obama’s presidency meant that MCR was no longer needed (MCR was an ideal and not a band,” Way once stated). Way would soon return to the world of comics to write the Umbrella Academy series, which led to the eventual release of a Netflix show of the same name.
The return of MCR was teased by a series of profile pic changes, followed by a formal announcement of a December 20th performance at Los Angeles’ Shrine Expo Hall in 2019. From there, the band announced a full tour. Set to take various stages across the globe in 2020, COVID closures postponed their performances several times until 2022, at which point MCR scheduled concerts and festivals across Europe and North America.
Yet, MCR never did take the stage in Atlanta. The Music Midtown festival was cancelled suddenly in early August 2022, over a quintessentially American debacle in which the festival attempted to ban guns amidst the state of Georgia’s safe carry laws. In a debate between the festival and the state of Georgia, Georgia won the lawsuit, thereby compelling festival hosts to cancel Music Midtown (understandably) out of concerns for attendee safety. Thankfully, I had some friends attending a separate MCR performance date, and after a few emails and press requests, I made my way to the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida to report on the band that, in many ways, saved my life.
As my friends and I drove to the venue, we discussed MCR’s return tour, particularly that Way had come to be known for his eclectic costumes, leading audience members to speculate how exactly they would turn up to the performance? Goth bride? Hawaiian shirt? We didn’t know where to begin.The audience, on the other hand, was dressed exactly as could be expected. After all, the emo punk band’s most famous album, Welcome to the Black Parade, speaks for itself. It was a night of stretchy chokers (you know the one), fishnets, silver pant chains, bold eyeliner, dyed hair, black lipstick — the works. I had not seen such a massive cohort of people dressed in goth punk since I last toured Camden Town Market on Halloween a few years ago. And you know what? Teen Swathi felt right at home.
Way, on the other hand, was dressed in all white. The singer entered the stage amidst deafening applause dressed as…well…a sheet ghost. Yep. Cue the disappointment of thousands who had hoped to see Way in the flesh, including the dozen or so photographers waiting in the pit for any semblance of a facial reaction from Way. It may not have been the most inventive of Way’s outfits thus far, some of which have included a skeleton costume, biker outfit with gear oil, and a sparkly suit. But, hey, it’s Gerard Way and Gerard Way could wear a plastic bag and pull it off.
As Ghost Gerard made their way to the mic, the band’s legendary guitarists, Ray Toro and Frank Iero, took the stage with the band’s bassist, Way’s brother Mikey. The band was joined by punk drummer Jarrod Alexander, sitting centre stage as the band began with their newest song, “The Foundations of Decay”. The crowd howled as Ghost Gerard continued with ‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’. My camera shook to the beat, matching the ecstatic energy around me.
As I quickly left the venue to put away my camera, the band followed with “I Never Told You What I Do for a Living”, “Make Room!!!!”, “The World Is Ugly”, and “This Is How I Disappear”, which I was told by friends had about half the crowd singing furiously and the other half jumping along. I returned just in time for “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison” and “Boy Division”. Expecting to see attendees tired from raging so hard at the start, I instead encountered a crowd that found itself energized song after song. It was around this point that the ghost costume came off, revealing Way in a baseball tee, sweat dripping from his face as the result of a quintessentially MCR high-energy performance. For the first time all night, the audience could see Way’s face as he hit notes that only he could.
In a nearly impossible feat, the crowd doubled in energy as the band began one of their most famous songs, “Welcome to the Black Parade”. The song was met with screams, shouts, and wails of “WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY”, the opening lyrics to one of the band’s most well-known anthems. They continued this trend with “Teenagers” up next. I revelled in being among a like-minded crowd, one that ranged in age and background, yet that collectively recalled feelings of anger and angst, a cacophony of catharsis. Be it reflections of our teendom, the uncertainty of being a twenty-something, the stress of being a thirty-something, the pressures of supposedly needing to have it all together at forty-something — the angst of it all united the crowd.
As the band continued with “Cemetery Drive”, “Helena”, and a personal favourite, “Mama”, my mind drifted to thoughts of young Swathi. I wondered how the little Indian-American girl growing up in the majority-white town of Beachwood, Ohio found her way to punk rock. I wondered about the hours she spent laying on the floor of her bedroom, as her parents worked tireless hours to hold their roofs and heads high — the anger and confusion she felt as she learned that hard work and good intent did not always correspond to an easy life. I wondered when she first turned to punk music to find community. As “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” played, I sang and danced my heart out in honour of young Swathi and all the former-teenagers who turned to MCR for solace.
As the set came towards a close, MCR played another famous song from their discography, “Famous Last Words”. I was far too busy screaming the lyrics like there was no tomorrow to notice the proposal in the pit, about which I heard murmurs on the walk to the car park. I laughed in awe with newfound friends standing beside me. We really, truly were seeing MCR live.
The set closed with “Sleep”, leading the audience to wonder if the band would perform an encore. In classic rock fashion, the band returned to the stage in all their sweaty glory, ready to perform a final few songs, beginning with “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”. The band’s most popular song off of their 2002 album I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, the song brought smiles to those who knew the song, whereas others spent the duration of the song remarking on the concert overall. I watched in confusion as some members of the band left the stage at the song’s end, leading an exodus of audience members out of the venue to beat traffic. But Gerard Way remained on stage, and the end of the show had one more surprise — for me at least.
As the stage cleared, a soft piano melody filled the air. Some glanced side to side, wondering what song was worth such a dramatic vibe shift in the concert’s final moments. But I knew the tune all too well. The slow, somber piano intro to “Cancer” had filled my many morning bike rides to the hospital, playing on repeat as I received infusions of chemotherapy. As part of the soundtrack of my life, like many MCR songs, “Cancer” brought me to a particular time and place. It brought me back to an experience that had felt isolating until someone put to words my every feeling. That is, after all, the very essence of MCR.
While many left the FLA Live Arena confused as to why “Cancer” concluded the energetic and chaotic show, I left feeling deeply content. The band had delivered everything I had ever hoped — energy, charisma, variation, talent. Beyond that, they helped close a chapter of my life that was once left unresolved. I reckon that this is their legacy — the offering of catharsis that only emo punk rock can give, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than one’s self.