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My Chemical Romance’s world tour brought joy and catharsis to fans in 2022

This year the rock world has belonged to emo legends My Chemical Romance. Their postponed world tour has delighted three generations of fans across the globe. Jamie MacMillan went to the Milton Keynes shows for this photo series to capture why their return meant more than just nostalgia

By Emma Garland

My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way and Ray Toro perform in Milton Keynes in front of roughly 90,000 fans (Picture: Jamie MacMillan)

When My Chemical Romance announced their reformation on Halloween 2019, they didn’t know that they would be re-entering the world to find it transformed. In the time that has passed, Covid-19 has completely upended life, and set even the most mundane day-to-day routine against a backdrop of pervading loss. For the band’s part, their plans were put on indefinite hold. The hearts and hopes of teens and elder emos alike remained locked in March 2013, seemingly doomed to obsess over the same old interviews and four studio albums for eternity. Now: release. 

After a two-year delay, the My Chemical Romance reunion tour is blazing across the world fuelled by a combination of pent-up nostalgia and the fresh traumas of the pandemic. Everywhere you look at the Milton Keynes shows, there is familiarity rebooted. People in ties and too much eyeshadow are descending on unassuming English grounds. TikTok is flooded with viral clips of Gerard Way’s stage banter, among them: repeated growling of the word “RRRRATS”, pointing and shouting “Look at that young boy going to the parade!” at a cardboard cut-out of himself held aloft in the crowd, and tales of how he shit his pants after having dairy for breakfast. Fans are obsessing over like it’s a religious text. The merch run features a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of a gay porn star with a My Chemical Romance tramp stamp, which has prompted fervent discussion around the possibility that one of the band members might be LGBTQ+. The prodigal sons of mainstream emo have returned, and everything is in its rightful place.

My Chemical Romance fans watch the band performing in Milton Keynes
My Chemical Romance fans in Milton Keynes (Picture: Jamie MacMillan)

For a band so preoccupied with death, the circumstances around this tour have ultimately come to define it. Founded in the aftermath of 9/11 before going on to release a best-selling rock opera that carries the listener from a hospital deathbed to an imaginary afterlife, My Chemical Romance’s legacy is steeped in shared grief and survival. As a result, each of the shows is loaded with added poignancy. This clearly isn’t lost on the band, who seem in their own way changed by the past few years and are now on a trajectory that feels different from the one they were on three years ago.

First and foremost, there’s the joy. What’s most obvious about this tour is how much fun everyone is having. Gerard Way is all power stances and put-your-lighters-up, Frank Iero and Ray Toro are running around duelling guitars like classic rock legends, and multi-instrumentalist Mikey Way walks on stage after one show holding one of his kids in each arm while wearing a shirt that says ‘Mikey Fucking Way’. They’re leaning into their legacy while stripping back some of the more visual theatrics, leaving a performance so exposed that the commanding power of the band can be felt in full force.

My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero, Mikey Way, Gerard Way and Ray Toro on their first UK tour in 11 years
From far left: My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero, Mikey Way, Gerard Way and Ray Toro proving that they’re back and better than ever on their first UK tour in 11 years (Picture: Jamie MacMillan)

Then, there’s the death of it all. ‘Foundations of Decay’ — their first song in eight years, released on the eve of the tour — contains a direct reference to 9/11 and the subsequent state of the world. The minimal set design also seems to allude to the twin towers, with destroyed buildings flanking the band on either side of the stage. To some it might seem morbid, but not to the MCRmy — and with them firmly in mind at all times, Way paid tribute to those that had passed away over the pandemic.

“It occurred to me, after the second show, that there was a bunch of people who were probably gonna be at these shows that aren’t with us any more” 

— My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, speaking to the crowd during their Milton Keynes show

“The first night [we were] fucking around having a good time and I was talking about how it’s been two and a half years and how does it feel and things like that,” Way told the crowd at Milton Keynes. “It occurred to me later, after the second show, that there was a bunch of people that were probably gonna be at these shows that aren’t here with us any more.” An audience member then passed him a homemade flag featuring names of some of the fans who would have been at the show, which he held up in their memory. 

My Chemical Romance performing in Milton Keynes
My Chemical Romance perform in Milton Keynes (Picture: Jamie MacMillan)

The next night they paid tribute to Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, who passed away in August 2020. “I was so inspired by that fucking dude,” Way said, before revealing that My Chemical Romance were planning to ask Power Trip to open for them on the tour. “They were a great fucking band. Rest in peace, Riley, motherfucker!” he screamed, before the band launched into ‘Famous Last Words’ and its resolute chorus of “I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone.” There have been many moments like this over the entire tour.

My Chemical Romance has always been more than a band. To fans they’re a community, a refuge, a first mate helping them navigate life’s more menacing waves. Every aspect of their music exists to confront things like depression, anxiety and alienation and transform them into euphoria, joy and collectivism. They make the simple act of living feel like heroism, and though the past few years have been filled with sadness above all else, the shows are almost certainly hitting harder now than they might have. In 2022, My Chemical Romance return to find themselves not just remembered, but genuinely needed.

Taken from the October/November 2022 issue of Rolling Stone UK. Buy it online now.