There are few things harder than reinventing yourself in music. But, for Gerard Way, it’s what he’s been doing most of his life. He’s here in Portsmouth – so chosen because he wanted a scruffy, downbeat and proper rock ‘n’ roll venue in which to air his solo material for its first official gig – to do it once more.
With every album in his last band My Chemical Romance, Way found a way to change himself. At first, he was the Motörhead t-shirt wearing, leather-jacketed frontman. He became the black-and-red clad punk for Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, the marching band uniformed saviour of the broken and the damned for The Black Parade, and the apocalyptic superhero for Danger Days.
Today, though, the reinvention is that there is no mask, no character. He’s just Gerard, in a suit, tie and shirt … and, admittedly, vivid orange hair. But for the first time in a long time, this feels like him – no pretence, no act, just songs he likes to sing.
There’s still a showman in there, though. After local band The Bottom Line play their Blink 182-inspired pop-punk to open the show, there’s a very definite mood change inside The Wedgewood Rooms. The crowd is charged – they are the few who managed to get tickets to the 400-capacity gig, tickets that sold out within two minutes for Way’s first proper solo show. As The Bottom Line depart, the crowd tense and wait until, on the stroke of 9.30pm, the lights in the room go out, Way’s new band The Hormones sneak onto the stage and the room is strafed with what spotlights the venue can muster. The feeding back guitars, soundclash organ and stomping beat of Bureau – the opening song tonight, and the opening track on Way’s album, Hesitant Alien – burst into life, before he himself bursts onto the stage with a ‘Yeah!’ as the song kicks into life.
At first there are the familiar screams of a My Chemical Romance show, but they die away as this is a different type of music: slower, dirtier and less honed but also somehow more free. These are fuzzy, scuzzy rock songs, dripping in loose guitars and underpinned by a solid beat. They’re less frantic too, and arrive through a growling noise that is frequently sharpened by a bubblegum melody or stomp of drums or piano.
Action Cat, fuelled by its irresistible vocal line follows Bureau, then Zero Zero fuzzes things up once more. And if the crowd are more buoyant during the former, it is only because this is one of the few they know. Given that most of this set list is utterly unfamiliar to all but a few in this room, this is a crowd that lend Way their ears and their patience as he unveils new material in that least friendly of places: live. “You’re going to hear a lot of stuff you’re not familiar with tonight, and I appreciate you being here,” he says, grateful for the fact that every one here is keen to listen.
Tonight, he is not the didactic frontman of old. Where once he would preach and howl and moan and gyrate, tonight he is still and calm. The music is stiller and calmer too; it does not require someone to leap about. He seems happier and more comfortable as a result, and afterwards he says he pleased that there are some fans at the front jumping up and down, but just as pleased that others at the back simply bob their heads and take things in.
He plays every song on his new album but one. Millions has a sweeteness at its heart before touching, at times, on a Cure-like drama. Juarez opens in a blaze of heavy riffing before unfurling into a frenzied mania, all circling guitars and barely controlled chaos. Drugstore Perfume chimes with the sort of heavy psychedelia that used to be the territory of Spiritualized, and soars on Way’s most strident vocal of the night. And while there is less grandeur and swagger than there once was with My Chemical Romance, there is more of a feeling that Way is singing songs because he enjoys singing them, rather than because he wants to make a big statement.
No Shows thrills towards the end of the set, partly because it is the only other song the crowd know and partly because it is a belter. Way closes on Snakedriver – a Jesus And Mary Chain cover, which was perhaps the only logical conclusion of all the howling, fuzzy guitar tonight.
It’s a short, sweet set. “Well, we only have one album,” he admits. But he saves Brother until the encore. It’s one of the best songs on Hesitant Alien, and one of the best this evening: all building, bouncing piano that unfurls into something heartfelt and anthemic. It was written, he says, about his brother Mikey Way. Somehow, some of the best songs he’s ever written always are.
He closes on Maya The Psychic, a full-speed, stomping fusillade with flashes of the Britpop influence he has mentioned in the run-up to Hesitant Alien’s release. As debut shows go, it’s low-key but high-pressure. The crowd here tonight come wearing My Chemical Romance t-shirts and perhaps harbour desires to hear the old songs in a new setting. Pleasingly, Way doesn’t oblige. Instead, this is a new thing and new him. As he strides offstage at the end, grinning and quietly pleased with tonight’s proceedings, there’s something about the whole affair that seems to suit him very well.
Get The Gang Together
Maya The Psychic