It would be easy to dismiss My Chemical Romance as a ridiculous, over-the-top emo band whose music is enjoyed only by angst-filled girls in their early teens. I’ve made that judgment myself – without actually seeing them live or listening to much of their music. They certainly know their place in today’s musical landscape and they play it up. After seeing them in concert at Rexall Place last night, I think that they transcended such easy pigeonholing. I saw a band that understood and enjoyed the theater aspect of the arena rock show. As evidenced by the fact that they played their first set “in costume” as the band The Black Parade (think Ziggy Stardust/Bowie), MCR didn’t take themselves too seriously. They crushed out two memorable sets of hook-laden, aggressive power pop/punk to the delight of the several thousand teenagers in attendance1. All the required elements of a good and entertaining rock and roll show were present. Flashbombs and pyrotechnics. Singalongs. Power ballads complete with lighter/cellphone waving2. Paper confetti blown into the air (to fucking fantastic effect on Welcome to the Black Parade). Explosive gunfire sound effects. Excessive swearing and screaming. It was all there and though I was only vaguely familiar with their music, I had a blast.
At the end of their first set it struck me that rock and roll in 2007 (and it’s been this way for quite some time, I think) is not about innovation and exploration. All the groundwork was laid in the 60’s and 70’s, and the ground has been well-trodden. R & R circa ’07 is more about keeping traditions alive and paying tribute. Everyone knows the rock show rituals and agrees to participate when they buy their ticket. They know when to scream, sing along, jump around and get stupid. They know when to raise their lighters and share a moment of dubious and forced connection. They know when to call for an encore, and they know the band will oblige. It’s all contrived but there’s beauty in those rituals and rites; a certain joy in repeating what’s been done a million times before. There’s also beauty in paying homage to those who inspired you. In MCR I saw and heard shades of Queen, The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, and no small amount of 80’s silliness. The show wasn’t original by any stretch, but it sure as fuck was entertaining. And that’s the key to whole creative game. You nick a little from here, a little from there, add your own little twist and call the results your own. That’s the deal. Everyone knows it.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m now a fan of MCR, but I dig what they do. I’ll definitely pick up The Black Parade. They know their place and they play it well. Most bands should be so lucky.
1 They were The Black Parade for the first set (the band wore matching black marching band uniforms), and My Chemical Romance for the second. They even redrew the curtain between sets. A silly gimmick, but I thought it was cool. I’ve been to a few hundred rock shows over the years and have never seen that.
2 Back in my day, when I went to see every goddam show that came to town, we used lighters. Now it’s mostly cell phones. Safer, I guess, but something seems very not right about it.
My Chemical Romance, Rexall Place, May 2007
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?