My Chemical Romance Go Back to Basics in Oakland

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Gerard Way / Photo by Misha Vladimirskiy
WRITTEN BY
Barry Walters

Walking onstage without fanfare, marching band uniforms, or fancy staging, the My Chemical Romance that kicked off the North American leg of its World Contamination Tour is far more straightforward than the prog-glam behemoth that brought us The Black Parade. Now a four-piece joined on this tour by drummer Michael Pedicone and keyboardist James Dewees, the Jersey-bred ensemble (currently residing, mostly, in Los Angeles) has morphed back into a polished punk-pop band, one that's scaled down its theatrics considerably.

That didn't stop singer Gerard Way from painting his neck bright red, or his blonde bassist brother Mikey Way resembling Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes at the peak of his androgynous powers. Mikey wore a sleeveless T-shirt declaring "Art Is the Weapon," while Gerard's only change in costume was to remove the jacket of his white suit toward the end of his set, and then return for the night's encore with it reinstated. The others looked almost disturbingly ordinary.

The sold-out crowd at Oakland's swanky but relatively small (2,800 capacity) Fox Theater didn't seem to mind this stylistic retreat. The turnout was strikingly young, with preteens often arriving in family packs. Although the audience sang along the loudest to the hits from Black Parade and Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, its participation was wildly enthusiastic throughout with frantic displays of pogoing, fist-pumping, and fingered heart signs. Although the band's recent Danger Days album hasn't yet sold the numbers or achieved the airplay of its predecessors, the audience didn't seem to get those particular memos.

Danger Days dominated My Chemical Romance's nearly two hour set, and provided nearly every song in its first stretch. The band took the stage nonchalantly to launch into Danger's lead single "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)." The lighting was relatively subdued: The only special effects came courtesy of LED strips arranged in multiple "V"s behind the musicians; these changed colors and flashed. The equally speedy second track, Three Cheers' "Thank You for the Venom," supplied continuity between MCR old and new.

"They're afraid of us dancing," Gerard taunted. "Do you wanna dance?" he needlessly inquired before the sextet slammed into the current single, "Planetary (GO!)" The keyboards played here and elsewhere were for the most part only audible during song intros. Only on Danger's dreamy "Saturday" and a keys-accompanied encore of "Cancer" did the guitar blare momentarily subside.

Gerard admirably rallied the crowd for "Sing." (Why wasn't this a massive pop smash? It even had a fitting Glee version going for it.) But it was striking how Black Parade anthems like "Mama" and "Teenagers" continued to inspire the frontman's most emphatic gestures. He thanked the audience profusely and professed his delight to be back in America.

Yet his face rarely flashed with the intensity seen in MCR's many videos. Now a family man, Gerard may have grown more guarded. Or he could've simply had a case of opening-night jitters. Either way, he could stand to follow his own advice and sing it from the heart, sing it 'til he's nuts, and even for the ones that'll still hate his guts.

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