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Chemically Romanced 

Gerard Way ain't no vintage rock star, and God bless him for that.

Gerard Way: Where the hell am I? - WALTER  NOVAK

It's a dreary-ass Monday evening when the Wolstein Center goes pitch black -- and yes, that's a medical-issue stretcher onstage, with an IV pack dangling from a chrome pole. Just like the band's elaborately structured brand of Queemo (that's Queen + emo), My Chemical Romance's latest tour is the product of singer Gerard Way's attention to detail (or at least that's the theory we're about to drop). By the way, he's lying on that fucking stretcher, underneath a sheet, in one of them neo-Sgt. Pepper marching-band costumes that's black and gray, the band's official colors.

He's "the Patient" from the concept album The Black Parade, and as he climbs off the contraption, microphone in hand, his hair ain't platinum blonde or silvery gray or whatever you call that post-digital-touch-up color on the cover of December's Alternative Press. It's black. And the color Gerard has dyed his hair is totally important. I mean, sure, the thick black curtains pull away, revealing his fellow rockers in identical black-and-gray costumes, standing before the massive black-and-gray backdrops -- a sequence of vaguely gothic, kinda impressionistic cityscapes and miniature blimps. Which are, uh, black and gray.

But those other dudes -- including hot-lix axeman Ray Toro -- move about this dreamscape like average-joe rockers, oblivious to the off-Broadway production they're in. What we're witnessing is Gerard's comic-book vision, and he revels in the leading role: a post-everything, 21st-century fusion of Misfits-era Glenn Danzig and Freddie Mercury -- busting fey, homoerotic poses, stuttering across the stage like a corpse from the "Thriller" video, lifting a move or two from Grease, and speaking to his young followers in a faux English accent. Hell, he even throws in a dash of the Starchild's classic cock-rock banter: "How are ya doin' Cleveland? We're the . . . Black Parade!"

At the same time, Gerard is physically ill-prepared for the role he's created for himself. He's just a short little dude -- no butt and a tiny hint of gut -- lacking Danzig's muscles, MJ's moves, Paul Stanley's chest hair, and Mercury's operatic howl. Throughout the concert, his thin, weak voice struggles to stay atop the music -- let alone the crowd that's chanting his every lyric. The band itself, even with an additional guitar and a rack of synths, has not a chance in hell of replicating its immaculately produced music; it's all just an imperfect stab at the ideal.

But those imperfections are just so wonderfully intentional.

My Chemical Romance could "can" its entire performance, beefing it up with layer upon layer of programmed first aid. But Gerard ultimately wants us to hear and feel the group's inability to sound flawless, wants us to hear that frail voice as it's just about to crack. Contrary to what everybody else might tell you, The Black Parade isn't the modern equivalent of Queen's A Night at the Opera, Pink Floyd's The Wall, or the Who's Tommy -- bigger-than-life productions passed down to the kids from the rock gods on high. No, this record is more like a high school production of a '70s concept album, riddled with insecurities and plot holes. And Gerard stands there before us, the spazzed-out drama dork, balls-deep in puberty, auditioning for the drama teacher, belting out a tune with all the nervous gusto of someone whose only theater experience is acting out The Rocky Horror Picture Show a zillion times in his bedroom.

Sure, the dinosaurs of yore were far better musicians and superior composers. But while they yapped about pinball wizards and teachers who should leave those kids alone, none of those stoners really understood what it was like to be a teenager. That's one reason their rock operas feel far more naive and far less humane than The Black Parade. And though Gerard is on the doorstep of 30, every move he makes and every note he croons betrays the fact he's never really moved beyond his teen years. That's why he's sporting zombie makeup: Both he and that Patient on the stretcher died before they reached adulthood.

Yeah, that's getting kinda heavy, but just listen to the way Gerard allows the kids of Cleveland to overpower him: "When I was a young boy/My father took me into the city/To see a marching band." I mean, would Mercury or Roger Waters ever share the spotlight with their audiences in such a vulnerable way? Hell no. And that's why MCR's shtick is so goddamn endearing.

More by Justin F. Farrar

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