Gerard Way may be best known to you as that bloke with the white hair who went to see a marching band that one time and apparently got quite emotional about it. His concert at the Brixton Academy, however, demonstrated that he’s moved on from the emo thrills of My Chemical Romance onto something bigger and better.
The show opened with confidence that would come to characterise the entire evening, with the new song ‘Cheap Lights’ a Pulp-esque tune that allowed Way’s distinctive vocal to shine through in a way My Chemical Romance’s music never did. Slipping from track to track with ease, the awkward man who spoke at the Oxford Union the night before this gig was almost unrecognisable from the singer flipping his shock of grey-blue hair around, clutching the microphone stand. Way was clearly in his element onstage, stage presence radiating off him as he jived to the guitar solo in ‘No Shows’ or strutted to different parts of the audience, holding their gaze without dropping a note.
Hesitant Alien’s bold songs benefited from being played live, given a punch both by Way’s considerable stage presence, and his powerful vocal: ‘Get the Gang Together’ was a grimy mass of guitars and almost growled lyrics, while ‘Maya the Psychic’ benefited from the grit to Way’s voice that doesn’t come across on record. Live performance added an emotional weight to the songs: ‘Drugstore Perfume’ provided an excellent change of pace into a wistful character portrait, the crowd swaying as if transfixed by the purple lights and swooning melody.
There was no need to play any My Chemical Romance era songs: his new music is just powerful live, every hand in the house in the air to the chorus of ‘Action Cat’, whose refrain ‘do you miss me?’ felt like a homecoming. Just as I had been almost four years before at a My Chemical Romance concert, I was drawn in by the electricity that seemed to crackle off Way as he sang the sort of choruses you want to tattoo on your heart. The veracity of feeling in Hesitant Alien’s tracks was viscerally present throughout the evening.
Way’s performance was testament to the way he has matured as a musician since the end of My Chemical Romance. The sob-fest of songs like ‘Cancer’ returned, in updated form, in the heart-stopping ‘Piano Jam’: bathed in blue lights, Way crooned a song that could have become maudlin, but instead updated the melancholy of The Smiths’ ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ to an alt-rock sound. The motivational speeches that marked previous gigs – paeans to friendship and survival – were still present, but now they seemed less angry, tinged more with hope, a simple declaration of his choice to keep living prefacing the anthemic ‘How It’s Going to Be’, a performance that left several rows of fans with eyeliner down their cheeks. The second, impromptu encore, was the final confirmation of his evolution into an artist worth watching, a polished, gutsy rendition of ‘Snakedriver’ by the Jesus and Mary Chain ending a gig that had exceeded all expectations.
It was the same man who wiggled his hips across stages pretending to be in a goth cabaret band, or who exhorted his fans to never give up, but this Gerard Way, two years on from the split of his band, was a man on top of his game. It was uplifting to see the joy in Way’s performance. It was obvious to any observer that the black-clad boy from the back end of New Jersey had grown up and out, into a talented musician holding his audience’s attention with consummate ease and a huge smile on his face. Freed from the histrionics of his former band, and armed with accomplished songs that come across even better live, Way is clearly an artist with a bright future.