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Upgrading the Parade: How My Chemical Romance Returned to Play Arenas on Its Reunion Tour

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Pooneh Ghana.

My Chemical Romance perform at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Dec. 20, 2019.

Before many emo and pop-punk diehards could even dig out their old black nail polish, My Chemical Romance’s reunion tour was already spoken for — sold out nationwide in a matter of hours on Jan. 31, about as quickly as Ticketmaster could process the purchases. 

Yet somewhere amid the superstorm of fan fervor surrounding the alt-rock titans’ return to the live stage, there exists a stark contrast -- between the cavernous arenas the band will play in 2020, and the far smaller stages MCR booked prior to its break-up. 

Flashback to 2010-11, when MCR hit the road for its World Contamination Tour — in support of the band’s most recent LP, 2010’s power-pop epic Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Frontman Gerard Way and company were jamming in midsize theaters and clubs: Terminal 5 in New York (3,000 capacity), House of Blues in Chicago (1,400 capacity) and the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. (1,200 capacity). Contamination was the band’s last solo headlining tour -- they also co-headlined a 40-date summer amphitheater tour with Blink-182 in 2011 -- before officially disbanding in 2013. 

Now, MCR’s first tour in nearly a decade, which kicks off Sept. 9 in Detroit after a flurry of overseas festival dates -- though the band's Japanese dates were just postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus -- is also the band’s first to include only arenas. That bests even its Black Parade heyday, which saw the band play both arenas (like The Forum in Inglewood, California, 17,500 capacity) and theaters (like Congress Theater in Chicago, 3,500 capacity). The reunion tour sold out all 20 of its North American dates in six hours

“Right out of the gate, My Chemical Romance pretty much went clean,” says Tom Alexander, booking manager for the Tacoma Dome in Washington state (23,000 capacity). “It sold out in like an hour and 20 minutes.”
The only show to sell out as quickly this year was pop megastar Billie Eilish, Alexander says. 

To boot, the band leapt last month to No. 5 on Billboard’s Global Top Artists ranking and to No. 3 on the U.S. Top Artists list. It’s as though MCR never left its post as the glam-goth savior of a generation of disillusioned youth -- while also gaining a newer generation of fans in their absence. 

Such a grand level-up is rare for a band during a period of inactivity. Sure, MCR fans were clamoring for years over a potential reunion, but take the band’s home state of New Jersey, for example: on the Contamination tour in 2011, MCR booked one night at the suburban rock club Starland Ballroom (2,000 capacity). This September, it will play back-to-back nights at the Prudential Center in Newark (35,000 capacity between the two shows).  

How does a rock band pull off such an immediate upgrade -- especially in 2020, when its anchoring genre has been almost entirely erased from the mainstream?

Well, it’s because My Chemical Romance was never just a band: It’s a lifestyle, industry experts agree. “My Chemical Romance was a movement,” says Matt Young, president of artist services for Warner Music. “There was almost a religion to it. It felt bigger than just music at the time.”

Young refers to the band’s goth-glam apparel and iconography -- the pasty makeup and jet-black dress clothes of the Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge era and the undead military garb of The Black Parade that fueled the latter album’s climb to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2006. 

Young works closely with Warner’s merchandise licensing partners, including MCR’s long-standing merch HQ: Hot Topic, where the band has been a Top 10 license for nearly its entire career, even in off years. “You saw spikes [in business] in years when the band had already been broken up,” Young adds. “That shows that the newer generation of fans were discovering what the band was … It speaks to the passion that the band created, and the emotion it created.”

Mikey Seitis, Senior Buyer of Music and Music Apparel at Hot Topic, confirms that “there has always been fan-fueled demand for MCR merch,” adding that his stores last year also began to carry merchandise for The Umbrella Academy — the hit Netflix fantasy series adapted from Way’s eponymous comic book series. “Its popularity further indicated that fans were hungry for [the band’s] creative output,” Seitis says. “MCR has one of the most passionate fan bases I’ve ever seen during my 10-plus years as a buyer at Hot Topic.” 

Experts say there is some precedent in terms of mammoth rock comebacks, even within MCR’s own cluster of acts associated with the mid-’00s “mall emo” craze. “Fall Out Boy went away for a minute and did arenas when they came back,” Young says, referencing the band’s three-year hiatus followed by a leap back into the mainstream with 2013’s Save Rock and Roll LP. “But they were always more pop. My Chem was never pop.”

For a more rock-centric precedent, artist manager Scott Waldman mentions one of the most notable alt-rock reinventions of the last 25 years. 

“I remember when Weezer took a break after Pinkerton because Pinkerton was critically lambasted and it didn't do as well sales-wise as The Blue Album,” says Waldman, whose management roster includes members of past MCR contemporaries All-American Rejects, AFI and Sum 41. “I think [MCR’s return] is kind of analogous to when they came back with The Green Album, they were playing way bigger venues.”

For comparison, see Weezer’s touring history in Philadelphia: while supporting Pinkerton in 1996, the band played the Theatre of Living Arts (1,000 capacity). Six months after returning in 2001 -- following new hits like “Hash Pipe” and “Island In The Sun,” and renewed fan reverence for the initially underperforming Pinkerton -- Weezer headlined the First Union Center (now Wells Fargo Center, 19,500 capacity). 

Waldman says MCR chose the perfect cultural moment to return to the fold.  “Look at the popularity of Emo Nite and how big that's gotten. And obviously with emo rap … even [famed punk label] Epitaph is signing emo rappers left and right,” he says. 

Waldman also associates MCR’s resurgence with the country’s “divisive and negative political climate,” which has made people “want to rage against the machine.” Waldman makes the pun to remind that RATM — another band steeped in head-banging rebellion — has also announced a highly anticipated tour for 2020.  “[MCR’s] songs are not happy songs,” he says. “It's angry, it's emotional and it's very articulate.”

Seitis adds: “Everything is cyclical, and with the intense nostalgia for the 2000s alt-rock scenes trending in recent years, [the reunion] kind of just needed to happen.” 

MCR first revisited their angsty throwbacks in December, when the band played its first gig in seven years to a sold-out crowd at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The performance sold out instantly and grossed nearly $1.5 million at the box office — a record for the 95-year-old venue.  But that was a one-off set performed for about 5,000 people. The reunion tour has sold 228,600 tickets across nearly two-dozen shows. Could they have possibly gone too big too quickly? 

“They wouldn't have done as many dates if they didn't think they could do it,” says Young. “I saw the [Shrine] show. It was two solid hours of hits and they looked amazing, they looked like they were having fun, they sounded great.”

Seitis adds: “I think you have to go big. For this to be a true comeback, it had to be done in a meaningful way, one that allows for a large group of fans to gather, connect and really elevate the energy of the experience.” 


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