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My Chemical Romance live in Cornwall: giddy rock'n'roll from returning emo heroes

The pressure is on for the band to prove they've still got it, but you couldn't tell from this loose but still pummelling performanceT

“How has the past two-and-a-half years been for you?” Gerard Way asks the crowd at Cornwall’s Eden Project. It’s the only moment during the 21-song set that launches their global reunion tour that’s met with groans. “We’re here – that’s all I can say,” he continues. “And I’m very happy to be able to be with you all today. Let’s play some fucking rock songs.”

The last time My Chemical Romance played a show in the UK, it was their breathtaking, critic-silencing headline set at Reading & Leeds Festivals 2011. A handful of shows came the following year before the emo group announced their breakup at the start of 2013, burnt out from years of touring alongside struggles with mental health and addiction. All four members went on to release solo projects but Mikey Way and Ray Toro never even toured them. It was only Frank Iero that played live with any sort of regularity – and even that resulted in a bus crash that almost killed him.

So when the band announced a one-off reunion show for 2020, fans didn’t know what to expect. Hopes had previously been dashed over makeup collections and anniversary-edition rereleases so while there were hints of new music via a cinematic tour trailer, the nature of the My Chemical Romance reunion has been a mystery for over two years now, thanks to COVID-enforced delays. After tonight, it’s clear this comeback isn’t about nostalgia or making a quick buck from the ‘00s revival. Instead, the show lives up to the legacy of the band, without being precious about it as the band merrily launch themselves into a new era.

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An oppressive buzzing plays out over the PA before their opening song proves to be the live debut of punishing new track ‘The Foundations Of Decay”. Its moody themes of self-destruction and fear are reflected in the apocalyptic wasteland displayed onstage and the band cut a brooding shape, all caps, hoods and dry ice. For a moment, it feels like the show is going to lean into the pain of the past, but then the four-piece (plus two touring members) kick into fan favourite ‘Helena’ and everyone can see Ray Toro’s beaming grin as he looks over at his bandmates. What follows next is a joyous 100 minutes that sees the band having the time of their lives without a care in the world.

During the 21-song set, they air alt-rock classics like ‘I’m Not Okay’, ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ and ‘Teenagers’ with the same level of communal excitement they’ve always had, first album cut ‘Our Lady Of Sorrows’ is updated with an extravagant guitar breakdown while tracks from scrapped 2012 album ‘Conventional Weapons’ are given their live debut. My Chemical Romance have evolved with every record but tonight, that four-album back catalogue blends seamlessly together to create the ultimate rock’n’roll party.

It is perhaps the most-stripped back show the band have toured since their early days. Gone are the cartoonish costumes and elaborate narratives (for the time being, at least), but the show is never lacking drama. The likes of ‘Na Na Na’ and ‘Mama’ may have all the flamboyance of a West End show, while the disco stomp of ‘Summertime’ and the progressive pop of ‘The Kids From Yesterday’ reveals MCR’s glitzy side, but the show sees them return to their roots.

Still, things are different this time around. Iero’s time as a frontman in his own band has given him a whole lot of confidence, adding snarling backing vocals on tracks like “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison’. And ‘Vampire Money’ sees all three guitarists tumbling about the stage to the goofy, over the top breakdown.

As for Way: he’s the only person having more fun than the energetic, vocal crowd – talking to them about not knowing what to do with his hair (he eventually decides on a “bullshit” ponytail), asking them if they want to discuss the government (boos) or Peppa Pig (cheers) before declaring  “There’s no agendas here, we’re just here to rock.” Elsewhere, he responds to calls to turn his mic up with a grin. “That’s not my job. For all you know, he’s turned it all the way up and I’m just singing like shit.” It’s a giddy, carefree performance.

That’s surprising, because there’s a lot riding on tonight. There’s a global audience watching on social media and when Way asks, “Whose first show is it?”, it transpires a bulk of the crowd have never seen the band before. In their time away, My Chemical Romance have grown from divisive cult concern to a group capable of selling out stadiums and inspiring a new generation of bands including Creeper, Cassyette and Waterparks.

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They’re now safely one of the biggest rock groups to emerge in the last 20 years but if the band are worried about their new found status, they don’t show it. Tonight’s show is fearless, loose and raw. It genuinely feels like anything could happen, as My Chemical Romance channel punk rebellion and playful ambition. “This has been special and amazing,” says Way, taking the words right out of our mouths.

My Chemical Romance Eden perform at Cornwall’s Eden Project. Credit: Frances Beach for NME

My Chemical Romance played:

‘The Foundations Of Decay’

‘Helena’

‘Give ‘Em Hell, Kid’

‘Make Room!!!!’

‘Summertime’

‘This Is How I Disappear’

‘You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison’

‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’

‘Famous Last Words’

‘Surrender The Night’

‘Teenagers’

‘DESTROYA’

‘Our Lady Of Sorrows’

‘Vampire Money’

‘Thank You For The Venom’

‘Mama’

‘Welcome To The Black Parade’

‘Sleep’

‘Boy Division’

‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’

‘The Kids From Yesterday’

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