As the frontman of My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way headlined the Reading Festival Main Stage in 2011, but three years later, he choose to unveil his new solo material as the very first act of the weekend on the smaller BBC Radio 1/NME Stage, appearing at 11:50 a.m. inside a marquee at the far end of the site.
Despite the earliness of the hour, the stage's biggest crowd of the day squeezed in to see the 35-minute set, many fans sprinting to the front as soon as the gates opened. Way had played a low-key warm-up gig at Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms earlier in the week, but otherwise this was the first opportunity for most fans to sample his new direction. And, while Way's hair remains dyed a vivid shade of burnt orange, almost everything else had changed.
With the singer clad in an electric blue suit and backed by a four musicians in white shirts and black ties, the band both looked and sounded like a Nineties Britpop outfit. They opened with the Supergrassy stomp of "Bureau," before moving onto debut solo single "Action Cat," clearly influenced by shoegazing bands of the early Nineties such as Ride or My Bloody Valentine.
In total, Way played eight songs from his debut solo record, Hesitant Alien, due September 30. There were a few traces of MCR's trademark flamboyance in the Bowie-isms of "Drugstore Perfume," but the likes of "Zero Zero" and "No Shows" stuck more closely to his recent pledge to "re-boot Britpop in America" – snappy, catchy songs delivered with arty panache.
Way seemed slightly overwhelmed by the huge turnout, telling fans, "It's amazing to be back here – I love you" and later saying, "Thank you for waking up. You guys need your rest for the festival so thanks for rushing over. We'll never forget this."
Despite sticking to his promise to play "a bunch of songs that none of you have heard before," with no My Chemical Romance songs on the set list, the crowd reaction was appreciative, with screams ringing out every time he spoke or approached the front of the stage.
He closed the set with a bruising cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain's sleaze anthem "Snakedriver" and with a final "I love you" was gone, although he pledged to return to the U.K. soon.
Reading Festival continues over the weekend. Last night was co-headlined by Queens of the Stone Age and Paramore, with the latter having to overcome a power failure during its set. Arctic Monkeys headline tonight, with Blink-182 closing things out on Sunday night.