The breakup of a band inevitably devastates the fanbase. However, when My Chemical Romance (MCR) – arguably one of the biggest punk bands of all time – decided to call it quits two years ago, it was more than just devastation: it was the end of an era. Instead of withdrawing into the shadows of MCR’s fame, the band’s former members have shined in recent months through their own projects, each amassing a devoted following made up of new fans and old. As a testament to this immense progression, former guitarist Frank Iero created frnkiero andthe cellabration, who performed to a sold out crowd in Orlando last Wednesday.
With two hours until doors, the line already stretched around the venue. Small circles of fans bubbled against the brick walls, each laughing, conversing, and bursting with anticipation, happy to relate with others who share an undying interest in similar musicians.
Music venue slash nightclub The Social is the smaller counterpart to its attached sister venue The Beacham. By the time the first band, Modern Chemistry, began playing, the cozy space was already packed with people from the stage to the bar lined across the back wall. The wholehearted rock band from New Jersey put on a solid opening set, leaving many in the crowd keen to see them again. The performance contained strong vocals and equally impressive instrumentals. Honing in on their versatility, Modern Chemistry could easily support a variety of tours, adding to their future potential.
The second act on the bill was The Homeless Gospel Choir, which is Derek Zanetti and his acoustic guitar. Nothing more is needed. Armed with a fantastically unique voice, limitless charisma, and saliently relatable lyrics, Zanetti transformed the room’s atmosphere. The energetic crowd became an attentive audience, eagerly listening to Zanetti perform his series of honest protest songs. Some were political, others addressed religion, but all focused on protesting society, culture, and ourselves. After every line the listeners cheered as if, for the first time, they found someone else who views and is viewed by the world in the same way. Zanetti was a storyteller, narrating parts of his life through the songs’ lyrics and small monologues in a quirky manner, keeping the mood jaunty yet sincere.
At this point, a silent theme weaved through the evening: music and mental health. By asking the crowd to be happy and enjoy their songs, even though most, if not all, were written from sadness, Modern Chemistry frontman Joe Zorzi suggested that the right disposition and attitude can turn negatives into positives. Zanetti told of his battle with mental illness and his comfort in the punk community. Before the song “Musical Preference,” he thanked the audience for creating safe spaces at concerts such as these, allowing kids, who feel like outsiders on a daily basis, to be themselves. Once Zanetti sang that “I found my escape in that Green Day tape,” the crowd erupted in cheers, and possibly tears as well.
A recent article by Alternative Press’ Web Editor Cassie Whitt, “I Found Hope at a Frank Iero Show: On Music and Mental Health,” directly confronted this theme. In the piece, Whitt chronicles her struggle with anxiety and a conversation with Iero, in which he ensures that “‘everybody is a work in progress.’”
The statement summarizes frnkiero andthe cellabration lyrics, which capture the confusion in being young and then growing up. The lyrics come from a wise perspective, from someone older who has been through it all and who is still, honestly, going through it all. The lyrics promise that it is okay to be okay and that crazy uncertainty is a product of life’s neverending transition.
Concert attendee and Iero fan Hannah Baird is a testament to the deep impact musicians like Iero have on their fans when music and mental health is interlaced. “As for what his music means to me, I think the simplest way I could put it would be to say that it means everything. He sings about things I relate to. Depression, self-loathing, thoughts you pretend you don’t have so the people you love don’t worry. I like knowing that I’m not the only one to feel those things,” Baird said. “It makes me feel less alone and less scared to keep living.”
After MCR, to distract from the severe pain of chronic digestive problems, Iero frequently retreated to play music in his basement. When Iero realized that the resulting music was some of the most honest and unique material he has ever recorded, frnkiero andthe cellabration formed and released a debut album, aptly named “Stomachaches.”
“He inspires me because he’s so strong. In his music you can deduce the troubles he’s been through and the hard times he’s had, but he’s still here and pushing forward. I figure that I can do the same,” Baird said. “Knowing that he is alive and well, it gives me a reason to be the same way. He’s my hero and I wouldn’t be who I am without him. I’m not entirely happy with who I am, but knowing that a portion of my being is because of him, I can learn to hate myself a little less.”
“I’d love to do what he does, to know that he can go up on stage and then go home to three kids and a wife is super inspiring,” crowd member and fan Alyshia Christie said. “He creates this vibe, as cheesy as that sounds, that says ‘hey, if I can do this so can you’ and that’s so great of him. He’s just a super great guy who does what he loves and I find that truly inspiring.”
Since the members of frnkiero andthe cellabration are each seasoned musicians, they appeared comfortable on stage and played with maturity that only materializes after years of practice in the field. Thrashing and commanding the room with raw energy, the cellabration’s striking talent was hypnotizing. Zanetti took over vocals for a Jawbreaker cover, allowing Iero’s innate expertise with the guitar to shine.
Baird’s favorite part of the set was when Iero cleared a space on the floor to perform “Joyriding” amongst his fans. “He got down in the crowd and sang and just sort of buried himself in us,” she said.
“My overall experience could only be described in one word: magical. It felt like in those moments in which he was on the stage, I was complete for once,” Baird continued. “Like the world could end and I wouldn’t even notice because that’s Frank Iero right there, that’s my hero. That’s a reason to live, breathing and standing in front of me and telling me to keep living just by the simple sound of his voice.”
Iero’s connection to his fans was apparent before the show even began. A vendor came around with a plastic box, collecting letters and presents, who often posts these offerings on his Instagram in appreciation.
“His music shows people that they’re not alone in the world and it’s certainly helped me, and several others, get through rough times,” Kaylee Milcoff said after the show. “He’s helped countless people just from making music.”
Overall, frnkiero andthe cellabration performed a refreshing, no fluff, little banter set; it was very much “you are here for the music, so here is the music, take it or leave it.”
Driving home, it became clear that the frnkiero andthe cellabration show was a testament to the ideas of transition and moving forward, emphasizing the importance of mental health in music and illustrating how the trials and tribulations of musicians can reflect those of their followers. MCR fans should be thrilled for the former members’ solo projects. The success of each are proving that while the band’s peaceful end was the end of an era, it was also the beginning of a new one.
Read Cassie Whitt’s article, “I Found Hope at a Frank Iero Show: On Music and Mental Health,” here: http://www.altpress.com/features/entry/how_i_found_hope_at_a_frank_iero_show_on_music_and_mental_health.