Walking into the Fillmore, I was greeted by a writhing sea of wildly dressed teenagers and hundreds of their parents awkwardly trying to fit in while performing chaperone duty. Seeing scads of girls holding up homemade 'Happy Birthday" signs scrawled on poster board suggested that there was a lot more in store for this particular show.
Snaking my way through the crowd to a clear vantage point near the front, I caught the last three songs from Kansas City opening act the Architects, who muscled their way through about the coolest riff driven punk I've heard in a while. The band's shouted gang choruses and syncopated guitar and drum sound recalled bands like Against Me! and Hot Water Music, but the band had a layer of complexity and displayed a mastery of rhythm in their own right.
Have to hand it to the Fillmore's stage production crew, who had the opening band cleared from the stage and Neon Trees was ready to roll in mere minutes. Like many others, my gateway to the music of Neon Trees is the band's breakout radio song "Animal," which is played more or less every hour on a bazillion radio channels coast to coast. On stage bedecked in impossibly impractical clothes, shiny shoes and haircuts imported from the '80s, the band looked like a cross between Duran Duran and Sonic Youth. Musically, the band's well polished sound constantly recalled The Killers with a hearty dose of early new wave.
Although the band's music is not anything resembling groundbreaking, the outfit definitely had a good handle on how to dazzle a crowd. The happy birthday dedication to MCR frontman Gerard Way towards the end of the Neon Tree's set could have easily veered into shameless crowd participation gimmick territory but instead came across as a nice topper to what was truly a pretty fantastic set.
Any doubts of which band the crowd came to see were dispelled quickly the moment My Chemical Romance took the stage. While each of the opener bands proved themselves more than competent entertainers on the Fillmore's massive stage, Way and company instantly elevated the showmanship and their charisma took things to another level.
From a technical perspective, there are not many bands that can pull off the complex musical arrangements and genre swapping My Chemical Romance is known for. And witnessing it up close and personal, it's hard to deny the act's ferocious musical chops and innate ability to pen songs with the mother-of-all monster hooks.
After an obligatory first half hour or so of mostly newer material including the frenetic chant along "Na Na Na" from their latest album, the rest of the band's set was comprised almost entirely of older fan favorites including "Give 'Em Hell Kid" and "Teenagers," the latter of which had even middle-aged soccer moms singing along to the R-rated chorus.
Throughout the set, frontman Gerard Way constantly teased the capacity crowd in between every few songs with a few bars of "Happy Birthday" which launched the crowd into singing aloud only to be drowned out by the band's next song. All in good fun though -- it was clear that the crowd was in on the joke. Of course the radio hits were well represented and predictably had the crowd singing word for word on songs like "Sing," "I'm Not Okay," and "Welcome To The Black Parade," louder than the band at times.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: While I've mostly been only a passive listener of the My Chemical Romance's radio songs through the years, my son' a huge fan. Random Detail: My Chemical Romance rocked the absolute best cover version of The Damned's "Neat Neat Neat" I've ever heard. By the Way: The whole show was absolutely fantastic, but watching the security staffers harass and intimidate kids throughout the night was ridiculous. The worst part? Watching a group of security staffers with piss poor attitudes after the show tell a bunch of kids that they needed to leave immediately. These kids were patiently waiting at the end of the longest merch line I've ever seen and hadn't yet had their turn to buy a souvenir concert T-shirt. Turns out those kids bought their tickets months in advance and drove ninety miles from Limon that day to be at the show.