“People turn up expecting to see one of the greatest shows of their lives”: How My Chemical Romance took over the UK

Right from the start, the UK fell in love with My Chemical Romance. And they with us. Fittingly, our fair isle became the site of many of their greatest victories, from Brixton to headlining Reading & Leeds. We look back at how New Jersey’s finest built their empire on British soil…

“People turn up expecting to see one of the greatest shows of their lives”: How My Chemical Romance took over the UK
Mischa Pearlman

It happened before it happened. Even as My Chemical Romance were yet to became one of the biggest live bands on the planet, they were sort of already there. At least in the UK, where seismic rumblings were happening before they’d even touched down at the airport.

But there was one specific moment where the future scope of their live impact on these shores was predicted with pinpoint accuracy. In January 2005, there was a UK tour that took in 10 dates in 11 days. Taking Back Sunday were headlining. My Chemical Romance were the main support. This writer was selling merch and driving the van for the openers, California’s Communiqué. And every single night it was clear that the sold-out crowd were there as much to see My Chemical Romance as they were the headliners. And every single night the Jersey boys proved they were something very special indeed.

Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge had come out some seven months earlier, reaching Number 34 in the UK album charts, but even further into the hearts of those who quickly made the band their own. Every night, you could barely hear Gerard Way sing because of the voices screaming his lyrics back at him. Some nights – because MCR were just the support band, remember – they’d share a dressing room with Communiqué, and the depth of passion the New Jerseyites invoked was genuinely incredible.

At every venue there was an abundance of gifts waiting for the band from their fans – black roses, homemade cakes, handmade trinkets, handwritten notes declaring undying love and devotion – and it was something the band gave back in equal measure. And have done ever since. They returned to the UK towards the end of that same year, and played, among other dates, two nights at Brixton Academy, but this time as headliners. The fervour was just as intense.

“Such is their reputation,” ran Kerrang!’s review of the first night, “that people turn up expecting to see one of the greatest shows of their lives. The absolute control from the band – as they tear into Thank You For The Venom, guitarist Frank Iero twisting around like a weather vane in a hurricane – is thrown into sharp contrast to the absolute mayhem in front of them in the pit, where shrieks of excitement compete with people singing the words at the tops of their lungs. They’re not just connecting with the audience; they’re leading them, in a way that looks effortless but so few can actually pull off.”

That last line is the crux and at the heart of everything. It’s why their gigs only got bigger and more insane from there. Even as the band evolved their sound and reinvented their image – first with 2006’s world-conquering third album, The Black Parade, and then in 2010 with Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys – that connection with the audience only grew deeper and more passionate. And as the crowds and venues grew bigger, so did the band, never struggling to fill the space on their stage, nor reach the furthest corners of the room.

As they were exploding everywhere, there was something special about the UK, as Gerard explained in a 2006 interview with Kerrang!. Asked if people in their native America had taken to the band in the same way, the singer explained that there was a different attitude at home compared to here.

“In the U.S. it’s like, ‘Come show us what you’ve got,’” he said. “In the UK it’s like, ‘We’re behind you.’ It’s an incredible and addictive feeling. We were home for a bit recently and by the fifth day I was saying, ‘I need that crowd.’ Without it I feel powerless. It’s a reason to live.”

As much as that was the case for Gerard, it was the same for the band’s fans. And the impact wasn’t just limited to their own shows – as they marched forward through The Black Parade and beyond, they were elevated to not just venue headliners, but high up on festival bills. Yet even though their reach and influence had expanded greatly to make them household names, it wasn’t always an easy ride, as their appearance at the 2006 Reading Festival – taking the stage immediately after Slayer – amply demonstrated.

“The booing when their name is announced over the PA as Slayer leave is hateful,” read our 5/5 review. “And when Ray Toro strides onto the stage, there are no words to describe the venomous anathema that makes the skies darken with bottles, burgers, and even a fucking golf ball flung stageward. But, even as the volley of crap thrown their way intensifies, it’s clear that My Chemical Romance would rather die in a blaze of glory than cry off at the hands of a bunch of mindless c**ts, and from the moment I’m Not Okay (I Promise) kicks in, the look in Gerard Way’s eyes says this is one scrap he’s going to win. They belt out Thank You For The Venom, Give ’Em Hell, Kid and You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison with spiteful, fighting spirit, and a dogged determination to stand their ground and not back down. After perhaps the toughest gig of their lives, they victoriously exit the battlefield with no quarter given. Manowar would be proud.”

The following year, the band went to Donington, at the very top of the bill at Download Festival. It was phenomenal. Even a few bottlers couldn’t hide the more overwhelming point: My Chemical Romance were genuinely undefeatable.

“A note to the bottle throwers: a far more effective insult for My Chemical Romance would be to just ignore them,” it read. “But you imagine such reasoning too sophisticated for the dedicated pockets of punters lobbing missiles at Gerard Way’s crew. Instead it’s just more fuel on the fire for an act who have long built a career on triumph over adversity, and one who are headed for yet still bigger things. Ditching the pyro-fuelled extravaganza of their last UK tour in favour of a straight-ahead greatest hits blitzkrieg, with Helena, Teenagers, I’m Not Okay and a victorious Welcome To The Black Parade all blasts of technicolour fury, their headline set delivers a triumphant close to the first night.”

Despite protestations from an ignorant few, the UK’s love affair with the band was unstoppable, even if their chart success wasn’t quite as successful for Danger Days as it had been for The Black Parade. In America, My Chemical Romance’s fourth (and so far final) album hit Number 8 on the Billboard 200 compared to its predecessor’s peak position of Number 2 (although claimed the top spot on both the Alternative and Rock album charts). It made it to Number 14 in the UK, where its predecessor had also settled at the Number 2 spot. No matter. My Chemical Romance were still one of the greatest live forces on the planet. Their reward was to headline the Friday of 2011’s Reading Festival, a prestigious honour reserved only for the most brilliant and captivating live bands. Their set followed an impressive performance from 30 Seconds To Mars, whose own dominance onstage Kerrang! speculated led to My Chemical Romance’s own phenomenal set.

“[Jared Leto] makes a persuasive argument that 30 Seconds To Mars could headline in the future,” read our 5/5 review. “But not yet. Today that honour goes to My Chemical Romance, who must have anticipated being upstaged by 30STM and decided to go for broke. Blaring out some of their biggest hits from the get go in a hailstorm of pyro and balloons, Gerard Way wraps every song with a defiant smile. By the time Brian May comes onstage to perform Queen’s We Will Rock You it’s sheer euphoria – and it’s arguably even better to see such a legend stay onstage and play all of Welcome To The Black Parade with them. Together they close a set that saw My Chemical Romance at the peak of their powers.”

Unbeknownst to anybody at the time, that would be the band’s last gig on English soil. In October 2012, Frank had stated in an interview with now-defunct music magazine Q that the band had begun work on their fifth studio album, but any excitement about that would be cut short less than half a year later. On March 22, 2013, My Chemical Romance broke hearts all around the world with the following announcement on their website: “Being in this band for the past 12 years has been a true blessing. We’ve gotten to go places we never knew we would. We’ve been able to see and experience things we never imagined possible. We’ve shared the stage with people we admire, people we look up to, and best of all, our friends. And now, like all great things, it has come time for it to end. Thanks for all of your support, and for being part of the adventure.”

To say it was a shock is an understatement. After all, as K! had accurately pointed out, this was a band at the peak of their powers. They’d diligently worked their way up in the UK from phenomenal support band to phenomenal festival headliners, proving the naysayers and the haters – not forgetting the Daily Mail and their attack on emo as a “sinister cult” that was a danger to your children – utterly wrong. They did so simply by just being one of the most exciting live acts the UK has ever seen. That on its own would be legacy enough.

But then, just as unexpectedly as their break-up was announced came news that they were back together. The pandemic delayed the euphoria slightly, but – finally! – My Chemical Romance have returned to these shores for a series of dates. It’s been a very long time coming and there’s a huge legacy for them to live up to when they finally step out from behind that curtain at The Eden Project, Stadium MK and the rest. But there’s surely no doubt that My Chemical Romance will pick up where they exactly left off: which is to say, as one of the very best live bands around, returning to their spiritual home.

This article was originally printed in the March 2022 issue.

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?