I’ve really been on a bender, and it shows…
October 23, 2016

My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade was one of the albums I named as a Five Star Album, and as it celebrates its tenth anniversary, many are reflecting upon it as a highlight of the decade.  I would go one further and name it as a highlight of all time.  The accompanying tour was also reported to be a theatrical masterpiece, with the band posing as their own fictitious support act/frenemy ‘The Black Parade,’ before playing an extended greatest hits encore.  It was sadly a tour that never came to Australia (despite being advertised, a streetpress interview in the lead up saw Gerard Way asked about bringing ‘the whole Black Parade shebang to town with the disappointing reply, ‘We’re bringing a whole new shebang…’) but a tribute act decided to do it themself.

Teenagers,
Bang at Royal Melbourne Hotel, Melbourne, October 22, 2016…

bangadAs the band set up on stage, the audience discussed where they were when the album was released. ‘I was in grade 4!’ hollered a woman, as I realised, I had been at almost the same place for the album’s release as I was tonight.  Thursday night patrons were debating their preference between Next at Brown Alley or Goo at the Metro when the album was released, and songs from Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge were still popular at each.  A launch party with a ‘secret city location’ had been announced, and ended up being at Next – found by either word-of-mouth, educated guess, or the distinctive black blimp hovering above the club.

guitarOn stage tonight, members of Gossamer Pride, Hideaway, and other bands switched from setting up their equipment to standing with their backs to the audience.  They pulled on matching Black Parade uniform jackets to become Teenagers and started, in keeping with the album, the old-rock opening duo of The End and Dead!  The tribute band sounded good, and looked it too, in their uniforms and make up.  Rather than continuing with The Black Parade the group wove various hits from other records – mainly Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge – amongst the songs from the album of the day.  It was unexpected, and initially questionable – I’d hoped for the Black Parade tour we never had – but the extra songs mixed up the set from the predictable.

After the frontman explained that ‘It really hurts to sing this one,’ Cancer proved a set highlight, thought they were noticably skipping songs from the album.  The frantic sing-along of Mama was also popular.  Surprisingly, the tribute act’s namesake song, Teenagers worked very well as a live tune, despite being the weird low-point of the original album.

From Next Facebook page

I’m not used to seeing tribute bands, but Teenagers, led by Bang regular Matt McKinnon, put on a true tribute and really respected their source material.  It would have been nice to have had a little of the group’s own flavour in, but perhaps that isn’t the point.  Maybe it was just wishful thinking based on the pedigree of the members, but this was nevertheless a fun night and a worthy anniversary party to one of the finest albums around.

 

He’s not Jesus, but he has the same initials…
August 2, 2011

‘I’m so excited!’ a woman standing next to me beneath the front of the darkened stage felt compelled to explain to me.  ‘I haven’t been here in years!  I hate this place so much!  Last time I was here, I was watching My Chemical Romance, and I was pregnant, and my baby stopped moving!’

I’d been ignoring her, but this last comment peaked my interest.  ‘Really?’ I asked.

‘Yeah,’ she boasted, apparently proudly.  ‘But it was okay, and my baby is okay, but I called Festival Hall and the papers and told them I’d had a miscarriage. But the dickheads wouldn’t even give me any money!’

‘Really?’ I wondered aloud.  ‘So that was you?’

The girl shrieked excitedly that it was, but she didn’t seem to recognise me from the incident.  It seemed she believed that the hoax had somehow made her a kind of celebrity, and she kept repeating to me that she had faked the whole thing, yet still felt disgusted at the venue management for not paying her any kind of settlement money.  I told her that she had confirmed what I’d suspected at the time, and she asked what I meant.

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ I asked.

She told me that she didn’t, and I explained that I remembered her clearly from that evening, and had enjoyed the show.  She told me that she had enjoyed it too, and only felt bitter because she hadn’t been able to make a profit.  I repeated my sentiment from the time, that I wondered what such a visibly pregnant woman was doing in the front of a mosh pit, and she seemed to become even more annoyed.

‘That isn’t the point!’ she shouted, grabbing someone who may have been a friend by the arm.  ‘The point is the music was too loud!’

She continued talking, I think, for a while, but I discontinued the listening I had been half-heartedly doing as a black curtain was raised above the stage where Belles Will Ring had just finished performing.  I didn’t really enjoy Belles Will Ring’s performance, however they can hardly be blamed for that, since I always confuse them with Broken Bells, who I prefer.  I had clearly not considered that it was probably unlikely that Broken Bells would be supporting Pulp.

Pulp,
Festival Hall, Melbourne, July 29, 2011

A low hum rose as the lights fell, and green letters were projected in a laser print onto the curtain.  It was the kind of theatrics I usually don’t go for, especially not when it went for as long as it did, but the fact that the lasers seemed to be speaking in the voice of Jarvis Cocker himself (whether that is truly the case or not) made the effect somewhat interesting.  But it started to get really exciting by the time the hum had grown to a steady guitar fuzz and the letters prompted Do you remember the first time? Well? Do you?

Suitably kitsch neon letters were illuminated one by one behind the curtain, which fell the second they completed spelling ‘Pulp,’ and gave us our first view of the band, and only meters away, Jarvis looking as excitedly awkawrd as he ever did.  As he strutted around the stage, I wondered if it is possible to practice awkwardness to the point of perfection, and concluded as things slowed down for Pencil Skirt that it is.

Pulp at Festival HallI was already impressed by Jarvis’s vintage heels when he requested a more modest pair of shoes be brought from somewhere off-stage, since it was irresponsible to be wearing such high heels ‘at my age.’  If the change of footwear allowed him to slink across the length of the stage during I Spy, then it was well worth while.  This Is Hardcore was, as anticipated, the set’s highlight, but was made only more exciting by Jarvis acting the lyrics out on stage, and all over amps and microphone stands, leaving few with any doubt about the lyrics’ meaning.

Pulp's Jarvis at Festival HallThe sound mix was also impressive – somehow the usual Festival Hall trait of the drum beats being mixed louder than anything else and drowning out the singer was surprisingly absent.

Jarvis, with Festival Hall's roof, and doors 3, 4 and 5Of course, with so extensive a back-catalogue there were songs that were left out, but the set included so many favourites that it wasn’t till playing an album in the car on the way home that anyone realised.  And isn’t that how a good gig should be?

Leathermouth’s Frank Iero
March 23, 2009

I was working as an usher at My Chemical Romance’s Melbourne concert as a part of their second Australian tour when a fourteen year old girl and her mother tapped me on the shoulder. The girl was smiling and had tears streaming down her face as patrons shuffled towards the exits after a memorable performance. I was expecting to be asked where they could buy merchandise, but the mother asked if there was any way her daughter could meet with the band. This is also a common enquiry, and easily dealt with through a simple ‘No.’ The girl gave me an envelope addressed to My Chemical Romance, with the underlined plea ‘Please read!’ and miniature roses taped to a corner. She asked if I could see that the letter was given to the band, should I run into them during the course of my duties. I did my best that night to pass the letter on, but to no avail. The letter sat unread in my scrapbook of ticket stubs and concert souvenirs ever since.

Then, more than a couple of years later, Frank Iero, My Chemical Romance’s guitarist, called from the chilly New York winter for an interview, and I mentioned the girl and her letter to him.

‘We have been very fortunate to have amazing people that have enjoyed our music, and some who write letters and draw pictures,’ Frank says. ‘Sometimes after shows we’ll get tons of them, or even sometimes things come in the mail. I’ve tried to read everything that I’ve ever gotten from people. It’s really nice when people feel so touched that they need to reach out in that form .’

Frank’s voice then takes on a sinister edge not previously present, like a parody of some Bond villain. ‘The most fun is getting hate mail!’

He was reluctant to go into sordid details about these letters, despite my insistence, but mentioned ‘With Leathermouth, I’ve gotten death threats!’

Leathermouth is a new band featuring Frank on lead vocals which was formed around a year ago during a break after relentless touring on the back of My Chemical Romance’s last album, The Black Parade. The music of Leathermouth is a significant departure from that of Iero’s previous band, with heavy riffs and a raw, lo-fi edge. In contrast with the rich production of some of My Chemical Romance’s work, Frank says ‘The whole record was recorded on our own, and in our basement, with nobody else around but us.’

The existing Leathermouth band members approached Frank simply for an opinion on a three song demo of their work so far. ‘As soon as I heard it, I fell in love with it,’ Frank says, and started thinking about lyrics to go with the instrumental tracks he had been played. Before long, he’d offered himself as vocalist and chief lyricist, and I noticed that the lyrics were perhaps more political than those of songs he’d performed with previous bands.

‘We didn’t set out to be a political band,’ Frank sighs. ‘But I think it is kind of impossible to talk about social issues or anything that goes on in the world today without talking about politics.’ Frank goes on to define the purpose of bands like Leathermouth. ‘What it is doing is provoking people to talk and to discuss things and have a thought process about things that maybe they haven’t thought of before. That’s really what the band is here for.’

‘It’s strange,’ Frank muses, noting how the difference between his two major projects has divided old fans. ‘We’ve gotten a lot of different feedback from different people. Some people that love My Chemical Romance hate it. Some people that love My Chemical Romance love it. A lot of people that love it, hate My Chemical Romance. It’s just one of those things. It’s very diverse, but I love that.’

Diversity, both musically and in a broader artistic sense, is something important to Frank Iero, who constantly has a number of projects overlapping. ‘First and foremost I am just a fan of music, and art in general. If I’m not playing or creating, I start to feel dead inside. That’s the way I can express myself, and get things out. Whenever an opportunity that I feel will bring out something different in my personality, something that I can add to, or just something I think I would love to be involved with, I have a hard time saying no to it. I’ve been very fortunate to be around people who inspire me, and have been willing and wanting to play with me in different capacities. I’ve been in bands since I was eleven years old, so I’ve been with quite a few different projects and played with a lot of people. It’s something that I love so much.’

Despite having played on some of the largest stages in the world, Frank admits to a certain apprehension when performing in front of large audiences, and has appreciated the return to more intimate shows that Leathermouth has presented.

‘Being in the public eye has never been my idea of a good time. In the past couple of years, when My Chem started to get a little bit more popular, a lot more people would show up at the shows. That’s when the anxiety part of me started to kick in. It’s something we never really prepared for, or even imagined would happen. Going back now, and playing with Leathermouth, and doing things while My Chem was off, we’ve been playing these smaller venues. It was fun to relearn how to connect with a smaller audience, and not have that anxiety about getting up in front of thousands of people.’

With this in mind, I wondered if the shift from the relative security of a guitarist standing behind a charismatic singer to the position of front-man would pose a problem for Frank.

‘As far as being a front man, I don’t know if I could consider myself being that, ever,’ Frank says, describing Leathermouth as a team effort which is reflected on stage. ‘There is definitely an art to being a front man and I think Gerard [Way from My Chemical Romance] encompasses that. There are certain people who were born to do that. I don’t feel like I’m one of those people. I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m very happy being in the background of things. I’m not one that feels like the public eye is where I should be. But, if need be, if somebody needs to take that role, then I can do it.’

While requests for international concerts have been frequent since the release of first album XO, Frank says that they may still be a long way off. ‘The record may be ten songs, but it’s only twenty minutes long. The press in Japan keep asking ‘When are you going to come over and do a show?’ I know for a fact that when we go to Japan, people will want to see like an hour and a half set. It’s just something they expect there. Until Leathermouth has six more records, that’s not going to be cool!’ He didn’t rule out Leathermouth appearances at festival shows, though, ‘Hopefully a festival situation will arise. I think that would be the best setting.’

Frank assured long time fans that even though he is busy with a number of projects, My Chemical Romance is still going strong. ‘We’re getting together and starting to really buckle down and write the new record and record it. We’re talking about the first week of February.’ Even though he has a lot on his plate, he says he enjoys the variety that the two bands give, and will continue indefinitely. ‘If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? That’s the moment when you have to decide to stop. But, knock on wood, we’re still having fun.’

Leathermouth’s debut album XO is out this month.

From Buzz Magazine, March 2009.