Photo by Kyle Alicea
Since moving to New York and ingratiating myself in the local music communities, I’ve discovered that there’s nothing more enjoyable than going to see my friends play a kickass show at a local hole in the wall in Bushwick or Red Hook, where you could possibly catch a venereal disease from the grimy bathroom stall and where the bartender standing right before you mixing a killer daiquiri also happens to be the lead guitarist in at least five local indie bands.
Nowadays I avoid arena concerts like the plague. No matter how large the space is, arenas are always claustrophobic with toxic fanfare at best and downright hazardous at worse — not to mention the mediocre overpriced food and drink (seriously, who charges $7 for a bottle of water???) and the dreaded grifting from predatory vendors like Ticketmaster and Live Nation charging upwards of $800 for a decent ticket.
With all that said, there are still a select few bands that I will always make an exception for when it comes to arena shows. And My Chemical Romance is at the top of that list. My Chemical Romance has always had a transformative impact on their audience and still does to this day. When the band announced their reunion three years ago, I was transported back to the age of thirteen, spinning The Black Parade Anniversary vinyl on repeat with an ache in my chest and a desperate need to express my gratitude for everything this band has done for me.
Flash-forward to March 2020, and I ended up purchasing a $10 website domain on WordPress and publishing an essay about why Gerard Way is one of the most important and sincere icons of my generation, especially for queer people. From there everything snowballed, and the next thing I knew I was interviewing numerous bands, curating playlists, broadcasting radio shows and podcasts, and getting press passes to local shows. My website was doing numbers, and I started using that traction as an opportunity to slowly piecemeal a career in the music business together. And I have My Chemical Romance to thank for all of it. This band has not only saved my life, but they’ve opened up numerous doors for me personally and professionally. I would never pass up an opportunity to catch them live, arena hazards be damned.
I arrived at Barclays Center at around 5:30 P.M. on September 10th and managed to catch a spot a few rows behind the barricade where dedicated fans with elaborate mall goth makeup, skeletal gloves, and party hats (September 10th is bassist Mikey Way’s birthday) were gathered up front. Being there felt surreal, especially since the only prior opportunities I’d had to snag a spot up front were at smaller venues and house shows; never arenas. The first act on the bill was California-bred and Nashville-based alternative rock outfit Badflower. I wasn’t all too familiar with the group, but they made a harrowing first impression with a high-energy set and lead singer Josh Katz’s plentiful charisma and razor-sharp lyrics. Highlights included “Stalker,” their blundering tongue-in-cheek polemic on incel culture, along with the more lilting emotional confessionals “Ghost,” “The Jester,” and “Heroin.”
Badflower’s set was closely followed by New Jersey post-hardcore veterans Thursday, a band I’ve always held near and dear to my heart. I don’t think anyone will truly know what pure euphoria and catharsis look like until they witness lead singer Geoff Rickly rip himself open onstage, exhausting his vocal cords and swinging the mic above his head with the cable between his teeth. The long and rich history between MCR and Thursday is well-documented. Rickly produced and helped distribute MCR’s debut album and the band has never kept their admiration for Thursday a secret, so it only makes sense for them to bring Thursday on the road for their first tour in years. Thursday ripped through their most classic staples, “Cross Out the Eyes,” “Understanding in a Car Crash,” “War All the Time,” and “Signals Over the Air,” which Rickly dedicated to queer liberation and the fight for reproductive rights.
The anticipatory hunger was palpable in the room as the crowd geared up for the main act, the air ringing with noisy drones and schizophrenic stage lighting that went on for around fifteen minutes. The band’s entrance was met with eruptions of noise and fans bum-rushing the barricade, elbowing each other for a spot upfront as the group took the stage, a third of them donning “Mikey Fuckin’ Way” t-shirts to commemorate Mikey’s birthday. The band opened with their latest single, “The Foundations of Decay,” which they followed up with “Na Na Na,” off their fourth record Danger Days.
Gerard Way flaunted all of his beloved stage quirks, strutting from stage-right to stage-left, writhing and shaking like a dog in heat as he howled and turned every effect-pedal knob he could get his hands on. The band clawed their way through a setlist that felt almost too good to be true, comprising of beloved hits and deep cuts off Three Cheers, Black Parade, Bullets, and even dipping into a few songs off their B-sides and rarities compilation Conventional Weapons. They closed out their set with a “supernatural horror double feature,” encore, with the two songs “Vampire Money,” and “Vampires Will Never Hurt You.”
Observing each member of the band do their signature moves in the flesh — Mikey Way in his wide-legged stance, Frank Iero slinging his full body in figure 8s, and Ray Toro vigorously tapping the neck of his Gibson Les Paul with precision as his wavy hair bounced through the air — exceeded my wildest expectations and transported me to another plane. I wasn’t watching just another live band; I was watching my adolescence play out before my very eyes without a lick of shame or embarrassment, a perspective that’s rare unless there’s some serious magic attached to the memory.
As I exited the arena and made the trek to the Atlantic Ave. subway at the end of the night, I observed fellow members of the audience in their lavish handmade emo get up board the train. We each caught each other’s eyes across the platform and beamed with knowing grins that communicated: I see you. And I’m with you.
The best part was that leaving the arena and returning to reality didn’t feel like a bummer. It was an affirmation that any adversary that stands in my way right now is temporary. All I can do while I ride the daunting wave of uncertainty is embrace the endless possibilities and continue to do exactly what Gerard Way and co. have always taught me to do best: To carry on.
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