My Chemical Romance and Alk3 crowd clash at the Pageant

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Have you ever made a photocopy of a photocopy? And then made a copy of the second copy, then a copy of the third and so forth? Well, just in case you haven’t, let me tell you-the more you copy a copy, the crummier the quality gets. But if you’ve never seen the original, then you think that crummy copy is as good as it gets. That was my impression of last Thursday’s My Chemical Romance show at the Pageant.

The sold out show was packed with mostly 14-year-old mini-goths who had clearly just visited Hot Topic the night before in order to complete their pre-packaged outfits. I don’t mean to be so judgmental. We were all 14 at some point, and there had to be some concert that was our very first.

My Chemical Romance’s attitude and aesthetic are the next stage in the downfall and commercialization in punk/indie/hardcore/etc music of which purists have been prophesizing since “Damn It” hit the airwaves in 1998. But back in 1998, the trend was simply skater shoes, backwards caps and lip-rings. Now it’s studded belts, eye-shadow, Dragon Ball Z haircuts and girls’ jeans.

If we return to my photocopy analogy, we will see the saddest part of the evening. Due to their sudden rise from indie unknowns to rock radio and top-40 success, My Chemical Romance was headlining the tour, while modern punk/emo trailblazers Alkaline Trio were stuck opening. The kids didn’t even have the excuse of saying that they’d never seen the original. The originals were opening up for the fourth generation copy. Not that Alkaline Trio is an entirely original band; they wear their influences on their sleeves (along with their hearts). In their music you can hear bits of Jawbreaker, The Damned, The Cure, Green Day and Elvis Costello. But the final product is not derivative of any of those influencesA–it’s a whole new monster.

With over 100 recorded songs, Alkaline Trio should have had no problem picking a totally killer set list, rolling their seven-sided die in a Rivers Cuomo-mian fashion, compiling it at random.

But alas, they weren’t playing to a die-hard Trio crowd, they were playing to the fruit fly generation-the kids who, if they don’t immediately like it, tune it out.

So, in their meager 45-minute set, the Trio mostly played their “hits;” Which brings me to another point; Alkaline Trio has been cranking out solid albums for eight years now, and they never had any radio play (only their two most recent albums, Good Mourning and Crimson, produced singles or videos, which never made it into heavy rotation except in their sweet home Chicago). All of Alkaline Trio’s success is organic; it comes from word of mouth and critical buzz in magazines and on the Internet, the way the Ramones and the Misfits and the rest of the punk ancestors rose to fame.

Trio’s set included their live staples “Cringe” (the highlight of the evening), “Private Eye,” “Maybe I’ll Catch Fire” and “We’ve Had Enough.” In the “pit” (the floor area directly in front of the stage), there were a handful of fists pumping in the air along with the songs, but it was clear that this was MCR’s crowd, not the Trio’s.

In addition to the classics, guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano took turns singing choice tracks off Crimson, including “Time to Waste,” “The Poison” and the blistering, salvation-rejecting anthem “Back to Hell.” “Back to Hell” showcases some of the Trio’s best, darkest lyrics. The chorus finds Skiba and Andriano shouting “Send us back to Hell/ we’ve had our fill of heaven/ give us back our sins/ the deadly one through seven.”

When MCR took the stage around 9:00, the small ocean of black-clad toddlers burst into a frenzy. Their first song, “Thank You For The Venom” went off without a hitch. The catchy chorus and intense music is exactly what the crowd wanted. With only about 20 songs to pick from, the rest of their full set was marred with filler tracks from both albums.

While MCR pales in comparison to the bands it imitates (Alkaline Trio, for one, as well as Thursday and AFI), they shine brightly amongst their “flavor-of-the-month” peers such as Taking Back Sunday, Finch, the Used and Story of the Year. So despite my complaints, MCR is a safe distance from the bottom of rock’s barrel (that space is reserved for Nickelback).

For the most part, MCR was hit-or-miss live. Their solid songs (yes, they do have a few) translated perfectly to the stage, while their filler songs sank like concrete over-shoes, or some other emo-goth comparison. The best songs included “Hang’em High,” “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison” and “Helena.” The worst songs were, well, most of the rest.

Lead singer Gerard Way didn’t help matters either. The arrogance he exuded on stage overshadowed the musicianship of his band mates and sucked the life out of the set. His constant cries of “can I get a ‘hell yeah'” in between songs was so grating. This is the kind of desperate plea for crowd interaction I would expect from a washed-up rocker like Steven Tyler (wait, was he ever not washed-up?) who’s trying to prove that he still has that rocker attitude, not some spring chick like Way.

My Chemical Romance ended the evening with the catchy MTV2 hit “I’m Not OK (I Promise),”which is exactly what the kids wanted. As the satisfied crowd exited the Pageant to the endless line of mini-vans of moms anxious to get their little dears back to the safety of St. Charles or Clayton, I began to ponder the lyrics to one of Alkaline Trio’s songs that night, “We’ve Had Enough.” The chorus of the song is “That’s it, we’ve had enough/ Please turn that f—— radio off/ Put ‘Walk Among Us’ on and turn it up.”

And I wondered, would any of those kids have gone to the show, let alone known who My Chemical Romance was if they had just turned their radios off? Doubtful. But I guess that’s just the way things work these days.