My Chemical Romance formed on September 12, 2001. The date was no accident: They’ve long credited their formation to the events that happened on 9/11. Singer Gerard Way was working at Cartoon Network in New York City and experienced the aftermath firsthand, inspiring him to create something that could change the world for the better.
Twenty-one years later on Sunday night, My Chemical Romance took the stage at Barclays Center. Fans have been anticipating this reunion: After a 12-year run, they had split in 2013 to pursue other projects. Then, in 2017, they came together privately, just to see if it felt right to play again. They tried to launch an official reunion tour in 2020, but it was postponed several times because of the pandemic.
During that time, between breaking up and hitting the stage in New York, they’ve become legendary. For the millennials raised on them, MCR represents a specific kind of brooding emo angst and anxiety, the kind of ambient neuroses that comes from collectively witnessing a horrific act of terrorism as young kids and adults. The band birthed an entire generation of musical misfits, directly inspiring some of the biggest names in emo rap and numerous alternative bands and pop stars who have gone on to to do their own big things.
Barclays was buzzing in the lead-up to the show. The audience was full of 2004 Hot Topic and MySpace scene-kid cosplay: chunky creepers, chained-up black pants, dark eyeliner, splashes of red. The Lemon Twigs and Thursday opened the show, leaving a drape-y red velvet backsplash onstage once they finished their sets. Eventually, that backdrop transformed into an apocalyptic cityscape, destroyed by unknown forces and left in ruin.
My Chem took to the stage without the same emo drag they did back in the day: These are now middle-aged dads who have long abandoned the aesthetic they made famous. Way still looked cooler than anyone in the room with his brown blazer, sunglasses, and slicked back hair. They got their newest song, “Foundations of Decay,” out of the way first, then acknowledged 9/11 with “Skylines and Turnstiles,” a track from their 2002 debut I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. The song was directly inspired by the catastrophic events that happened in this city two decades ago.
Over the course of the tour, the band has been shifting the setlist around each night, moving their biggest hits and adding or removing songs from across their four albums. This show was perfect for anyone who discovered them in between 2004 and 2005, when Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge ruled the world. They played eight of the album’s 13 songs over the course of the night, mixed in with the standouts from their other three LPs. “I’m Not Okay” arrived early. It was the song that cracked the charts for the group before the success of “Helena” (and its instantly iconic video) helped make them even bigger.
Sometimes reunion tours can feel like a band is robotically going through the motions to collect their nostalgia checks, but MCR felt as committed as their fans were to screaming out every line. The biggest arena-filling moments came from some of those Three Cheers deep cuts, like “Thank You for the Venom” and “Hang ‘Em High. Of course, singles like “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “Famous Last Words,” off third album and highest-selling MCR LP The Black Parade created deafening sing-alongs, in part to the decade of literal and spiritual karaoke practice the fans have been performing with those songs.
The band ended the main set with “Helena,” a perfect closer, and returned for an encore fitting of the die-hards: 2002’s “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” and Three Cheers B-side “Desert Song.” It was a bold choice for a band marked by a career of bold choices, and they were smart to extend that courtesy to the thousands who have waited years for this day to come. Even after they exhausted as much of their discography as they could, the fans remained standing in their spots, begging for even more.