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A potent stretch for My Chemical Romance

Its dazzling, ambitious album becomes a focus, and source of discipline, for the band's live show.

March 12, 2007|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

My Chemical Romance's concert Saturday at the Forum began with singer Gerard Way on a hospital gurney -- an appropriate platform for his invitation to "this tragic affair."

The song was "The End," which opens the New Jersey band's breakthrough album, "The Black Parade," and it's a virtual rewrite of David Bowie's "Five Years," with its dark, dramatic chord structure and its promise of impending doom.

Like Bowie, among other notable rock saviors, My Chemical Romance offers itself as a refuge and a source of solace for society's misfits and outsiders -- "the broken, the beaten and the damned," as the band puts it in the album's hit, "Welcome to the Black Parade."

And it lives up to that role on the rest of the album, a dizzying and dazzling compendium of classic and modern rock elements, complete with a unifying story centered on a dying cancer patient, that no one expected from this young, raw and unruly band.

While critics, surprised by the introduction of grandiose Queen dynamics and Beatles flourishes into punkish, post-emo rock, rallied around "The Black Parade," the album took its time reaching 1 million sales, and it didn't move My Chemical Romance into the mainstream embrace the way "American Idiot" did for its punk elders Green Day a couple of years ago.

That was a similar enterprise, injecting ambition and concept into a genre's conventions. The same record company, Warner Bros., and the same producer, Rob Cavallo, are part of the "Black Parade" success.

While Green Day responded to its resurgence of popularity by becoming a parody of stadium-rock cliches in concert, My Chemical Romance isn't susceptible to the same sort of dumbing-down. It formed in 2001, so it hasn't had time to create a history to betray, and onstage Way has long been happily mired in overwrought attitude.

This tour, which also included a scheduled show Sunday at the Anaheim Arena, imposes a welcome discipline. By pretending to be a band called the Black Parade and playing the entire album, My Chemical Romance not only mounted a potent stretch of music but also minimized its front man's tendency to spout shrill, profanity-studded exhortations and pronouncements.

"Black Parade," with its emotional resonance and musical range, is a better album than "American Idiot," but ultimately the group couldn't do more than give it a basic, solid airing at the Forum. There's no virtuoso among the four instrumentalists (plus added keyboardist) to command the music, and the sound was arena generic.

Explosions, flames and confetti filled the gaps that would have better been occupied by a truly charismatic stage figure. But Way is an elusive performer, as slippery as he is in-your-face. His energy seems scattered, his stance flips between sincere and sarcastic, and he never appears to keep his attention focused enough to become that genuine voice of comfort and inspiration he wants to be. Everything is screamed and bellowed in the shrill, exaggerated voice of a pro wrestler.

He can be fun in that way, even if the show isn't quite as memorable as he seems to think it is, and the final half-hour, when the musicians shed their matching military-band uniforms and became My Chemical Romance, was a brisk primer in the band's less distinctive, pre-"Parade" music.

The crowd on the packed, seething open floor reveled in old favorites, but the gratifying part had come earlier, when band and fans celebrated music that didn't fit orthodox expectations.

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