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(Image: © Ross Jennings)

Caligula's Horse at the Talking Heads, Southampton - live review

Australians Caligula's Horse put on an excellent show despite a low turn-out

As Caligula’s Horse eagerly take to the stage of one of Southampton’s most beloved venues, it becomes clear that the band have the deck firmly stacked against them. Not only do the Australian five-piece find themselves performing on a summer Sunday inside a blisteringly hot venue, but they also have to do so without any support act (local avant-garde rockers A Formal Horse dropped out of the concert at the last minute). Most perplexing of all, there are fewer than 30 people in the audience. To call this astoundingly low turnout ludicrous would be an understatement.

Yet, undeterred by the intimacy of their impending performance, Caligula’s Horse refuse to relent, kicking proceedings into gear with the prog metal bang of Marigold’s opening riff. Twisted and heavy, then quickly changing dynamics into a sombre, clean verse, this rousing anthem perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow.

Despite their limited crowd, they proceed to perform as if tonight is held at a sold-out arena, with vocal virtuoso Jim Grey bringing all the passion he can out of the audience, headbanging and dancing. Furthermore, Grey’s higher pitched delivery perfectly mimics his performances on record. The rest of the group follow suit as they match their charisma and sheer, infectious joy with a technically perfect showcase.

The aforementioned Marigold leads into the equally hard-hitting duo of The City Has No Empathy and Dark Hair Down, each of which keep the momentum flying high and fast. After a brief, emotive interlude where Grey wholeheartedly thanks tonight’s crowd for their attendance and unyielding loyalty, the slow-building Water’s Edge takes over. With a new album In Contact set to be released in September, the band debut a track from the record, titled Graves. This is 15 minutes long and has the intricate songwriting and diversity of a complex Dream Theater suite. Here the show reaches its height of experimentation, providing a more-than-promising tease for this upcoming fourth record.

The concert nears its climax and an impassioned and poignant spoken-word piece from Grey leads into the beloved Rust as a closer, leaving Southampton on a glorious high note. As the band end the set, and party the rest of the night away with this humble gathering of a handful of their fan base, it becomes clear that Caligula’s Horse have beaten these intense odds to provide a truly captivating experience, celebrating their past while also perfectly establishing the immediate future.