Have you ever gone to gig where one band started the headline set and another finished it? Well, that’s what happened – more or less – this past Saturday evening, when Million Dollar Reload played their last ever gig (coincidentally at one of their favourite venues), and midset transmogrified into Blackwater Conspiracy – the new name to herald the next stage in the evolution and story of the collective musicians involved.
A decent crowd – many of them (your PM team among them) having hotfooted from the Donum Dei EP launch down the road – has gathered for openers The Rising. Their mid-paced hard rock with a slightly country edge is pleasantly entertaining and contains somes equally pleasant and infectious grooves – although you cannot help but get the feeling that guitarist Chris Logan wants to let rip a bit more in the old shredding department rather than stick to their rather formulaic traditional Irish rock vibe.
There is hardly enough room on the Empire Music Hall’s miniscule stage for the huge amount of individual and collective talents present in Belfast’s sharpest-dressed rockers, The Irontown Diehards. The quartet deliver a more than accomplished set of classic hard infused with the passion of the blues and the wiry edge of traditional metal, delivered via dark thrumming bass riffs, dense drums, soulful vocals and surprisingly understated guitar melodies. Debut single ‘Step Inside’ is energetic and enervating, and gets a few headbangers stretching their neck muscles, and the band play with a passion and commitment obvious to everyone present in its honesty and integrity.
Almost immediately, as if preparing everyone for what is to come slightly later, Million Dollar Reload draw on the bluesier end of their repertoire, with the opening duotych of ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Waiting On Hollywood’. Indeed, while there is perhaps a slight sense of disappointment among some that the band don’t mine more of their rockier back catalogue – something which is more than rectified with a Titanic-raising ‘Bullets In The Sky’ and it’s enormous, venue-filling singalong – the more laconic, organic feel to what is happening on stage is more than appropriate for the occasion. While the band may also be feeling a slight tang of regret at the end of the M$R era, they obviously are enjoying facing up to the new challenges which await them (hell, even the normally stony faced Kie McMurray cracks a few smiles as the night moves into the wee small hours), as they mark the closing of the first chapter in their history with the suitably sleazy ‘Penny For Your Dirty Mind’ and it’s “there comes a time when you just gotta let it go” lyric.
And, with that, the band let go of the past and move into future, as the M$R backdrop falls to the floor and the bass drum artwork is ripped off to reveal the new identity – Blackwater Conspiracy. It’s a monicker which is deeply personal to the five band members, as the Blackwater is one of the rivers which flows through their native County Tyrone, and connects them both physically and spiritually. And the change of identity is undertaken with a seamlessness which emphasizes the amount of preparation which the lads and their background team have put into the transition.
And so the band move onto their next phase, with the closing third of the set given over to songs from the newly rebranded quintet. ‘Hanging Tree’ has a dark, bluesy edge with a suitably mournful approach as they wave goodbye to their former selves and watch the M$R brand disappear in their collective rear view mirrors. ’85 Rockstar’ has an old-fashioned bump ‘n’ grind groove, with it’s infectious “live fast, leaving something beautiful refrain” chorus hook, before the band bring the main set to a close with an uplifting version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ – a song which it’s hard not to get wrong but equally difficult to do well, and which suits the Cocker-esque gravel of Phil Conalane’s vocal style.
So, there it is. Million Dollar Reload are no more. The Blackwater Conspiracy has been hatched. It will be interesting to see how it develops.
Million Dollar Reload: Anything Goes / Waiting On Hollywood / God Damn Cocaine / Goodnight New York / Decadent Highway / President Joe / Bullets In The Sky / Penny For Your Dirty Mind
Blackwater Conspiracy: Blackheart / Roll The Dice / Hanging Tree / 85 Rockstar / With A Little Help From My Friends / Under Your Skin / Tumblin’ Dice
- For the full background into the reasons behind Million Dollar Reload’s transformation in Blackwater Conspiracy, read our exclusive interview with singer Phil Conalone.
- Blackwater Conspiracy play The Underground, Draperstown, on Saturday September 19.
- Live video courtesy of Rock Radio NI.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
- All content © PlanetMosh 2015.