Million Dollar Reload with support from St. Hellfire.
Saturday 20th September, 2014 – The Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill.
It’s not one of the bigger crowds tonight at the local mecca for all things hard and heavy, which is no reflection on the bands on show. Million Dollar Reload are genuinely one of the local bands who can pack this place in their own right, but there is stiff competition tonight in the form of Dragonforce (supported by popular local Metallers, Conjuring Fate) in Belfast. There are many Diamond regulars whose allegiances were split tonight, but I guess reasoned that there will be opportunities to see Million Dollar Reload another time. But there is still a decent crowd, and come the moment, the crowd is several deep down the front to cheer on their local heroes.
The same could not be said for St Hellfire during their energetic and enjoyable opening set. I am not sure if St Hellfire have played this venue before, but it did seem to me that those in attendance tonight were a little unaware of what St Hellfire are about, so the initial reaction from the crowd is a tad restrained to begin with. There’s no doubt about it, St Hellfire, as I have said in a previous review (here) are more a Punk band that a classic Heavy Rock band. Many Rockers, myself included, have a fairly broad taste in music and as Rock in general has become more varied over the years, so St Hellfire’s sound is not automatically ‘wrong’ for The Diamond Rock Club. It’s not my cup of tea, as I said before, but neither is watching them a chore. The songs are quickfire, punchy (thanks to the exuberant rhythm section of Decky & Mickey), and played with heart and humour. Head honcho, Mark Fanjo, is impossible to dislike and lead guitarist, Dean Dodds, knows his way around a guitar and has this Roger Moore-esque stage presence – other guitarists throw shapes as they bend the strings, Dean raises an eyebrow. The epitome of cool. Me likey.
But the crowd is here to see headliners, Million Dollar Reload, do their first gig at the Diamond since they released their live album ‘As Real As It Gets’, which was recorded at this very venue back in April 2013. Herein lies a tale. The band were due to play the Diamond in March but, while supporting Blackberry Smoke on their European Tour, the band had a ‘parting of ways’ with their lead guitarist, Andy. This split caused some delay in seeing the band returned to a venue that adores them, but it would seem it caused more than just a break while they found another six-string-slinger to replace Andy. It is clear, the split has caused a rethink in the band’s direction, with a slight shift to a bluesier style of Hard Rock; less Skid Row and more The Black Crowes. The band are back up to a five piece, but instead of getting a new lead guitarist, the have added a keyboard player in Kev Brennan, with B.A.M moving up to lead guitar and singer, Phil Conalane doing rhythm duties.
I am not going to lie to you, as a genuine fan of their first two albums ‘Anthems of a Degeneration’ and ‘A Sinners’ Saint’, I was a bit perturbed about whether this shift in style would be too much. As Conalane openly admits, before introducing an old song they couldn’t drop (‘Tattoos & Dirty Girls’), ‘there will be a lot of old songs we won’t be playing again’ and the thought of not hearing ‘Superslave’, ‘I Am the Rapture’, ‘Can’t Tie Me Down’ et al is one that will take some time to get used to. Another change to get used to is a slight shift in image as well as musical style. Gone are the leather jackets, scruffy tee-shirts, mirror-shades and general G ‘n’ R fan regulation ‘uniform’. In comes, well… waistcoats, shirts and an all-round more Blues-man style. Again, it’ll take a bit of getting use to, but one thing it doesn’t feel is cynical.
For my money, M$R have paid more than enough dues to be able to do a slight ‘re-adjustment’ to who and what they are, and this is as good a time as any for doing so, with ‘As Real It Gets’ being the perfect swansong for that era of the band. It feels like this is driven by losing Andy and the natural shift that can happen in the song-writing process, if the remaining songwriters favour a slightly different style of song. While I am no one to talk, the lads aren’t getting any younger, and with maturity comes a different attitude; less piss and vinegar and more reflective. And hey, it’s not as if they have turned into a Gospel group or have started getting political/preachy.
Just take a look at this selection of new song titles if you need further proof – ‘Penny For Your Dirty Mind’, ‘Cocaine’ (not a JJ Cale cover), ‘Waiting on Hollywood’, ‘Troubador’ all sound exactly like the titles suggest – still down and dirty, still no-frills Rock ‘n’ Roll but with a hint more Blues and less of the full-on Rock edge. There is no suggestion that the lads are anything other than committed to this new style; to play 10 virtually unheard songs, which is two thirds of their set, takes courage and belief. They still throw the crowd a bone or two in the shape of the perennial crowd pleasers. ‘Wicked’, ‘Livin In the City’,the aformentioned ‘Tattoos..’, ‘Goodnight New York’ and ‘Bullets In The Sky’, all adapted to the new style well, with ‘Bullets…’ in particular being a tricky task to bring it back from whence it came to a become a bluesier song.
The night ends with the encore of the ‘Stones classic, ‘Tumblin’ Dice’, and a particularly promising new tune called, ‘Under Your Skin’. Judging from the punters’ chat on the night and social media comments post-gig, the general reaction to the new direction and style is very positive, so I am not alone in looking forward to the new album and seeing the Tyrone troubadours again in the very near future.
WAITING ON HOLLYWOOD
PENNY FOR YOUR DIRTY MIND
TRUTH COULD KILL YOU
BULLETS IN THE SKY
LIVIN` IN THE CITY
SHOW ME THAT GROOVE
TATTOOS & DIRTY GIRLS
SHOOTIN` THE BREEZE
UNDER YOUR SKIN