Live Review: Caligula’s Horse, Acolyte, Future Static

19 April 2022 | 1:58 pm | Rod Whitfield

"Their set tonight is a delight, a multi-pronged celebration of their latest album, their illustrious career and their return to the road to do what they do and love best."

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Long starved of live music, and slowly but surely becoming less anxious of the COVID threat, a huge throng of Melbourne punters flock to Howler this night to see two fabulous up and comers of Aussie progressive rock support a wily veteran of the scene at the absolute top of their game. Damn it’s good to have the live stuff back.

It’s thoroughly regrettable that Sydney prodigies Reliqa are unable to make the Melbourne leg of this tour (they are on every other date). They are one of the most promising heavy prog acts on the planet right now, not just in Australia, and Melbourne audiences have been slavering over their first taste of the band in a live setting. We’ll just have to wait a little longer.

However, Melbourne five-piece Future Static fill the void with aplomb. Belting out their raucous take on prog, this band packs a wallop and stacks plenty into their sub-thirty-minute set, some of their tunes seeming to flash by in a brief but impactful whirlwind of sound. Bucking the progressive rock trend, there are no ten-minute-plus prog epics here, just a flurry of notes, passion and musicality poured into rampant, short and sharp two-to-four-minute tunes that never outlive their welcome. It is almost a punk rock approach to prog, if that makes sense. In the blink of an eye, this band has come, seen, conquered and left the stage leaving everyone wanting more, as well as leaving everyone in little doubt that, alongside the likes of Reliqa and Acolyte, these guys and gals are the future of progressive heavy rock in this nation.

Speaking of Acolyte, they take the stage next. While this burgeoning act shares similarities with and belongs in the same broader scene and on the same stage as Future Static, they are a very different beast, pursuing a more traditional approach to modern prog rock. Their compositions are longer, more layered, more multi-faceted. Although they are no less powerful. This scribe has watched their progress and seen them develop beautifully over the last five or so years, and they are now coming into their own as a band as they truly come out of themselves as songwriters, musicians and as a live act. Their stage show is an epic journey, a compelling narrative, a rite of passage, even in the abbreviated support-act form. Both the guitar and keyboards provide oomph, swirling ambience and masterful creativity while the drums and bass lock in tighter than the current Australian government’s purse strings (except around election time). And soaring above it all is the impassioned voice and vocals of Morgan Leigh-Brown, a singer who is quickly becoming an icon on the Aussie progressive scene. Acolyte’s contribution to this evening’s festivities is nothing short of spectacular.

Our appetites thoroughly whetted by the two beautifully chosen support acts, Brisbane’s almighty Caligula’s Horse make their long-awaited return to Melbourne to a hero’s reception from the capacity crowd.

Thanks to COVID, we’ve had to wait virtually two years for the C-Horse to finally tour their latest album Rise Radiant, but boy, are they well worth the wait. Relishing being on the road and playing shows again, and sounding and performing like they haven’t missed a beat, like they haven’t left the road, their set runs the full gamut of their decade-plus career, drawing tunes from each of their five albums. This delights the ecstatic crowd, who respond in kind, to the complex but cohesive music, the dynamic performance and frontman Jim Grey’s witty back and forth banter with the punters.

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Highlights of a live set that is always choc-full of them are the beautiful, wrenchingly powerful Songs For No One, the epic beyond epic 16-minute closer Graves (you know it’s a crowd favourite when the audience sings along with a lead guitar line), Grey’s note-perfect vocals (and fun repartee!) and the freakish lead playing of guitarist Sam Vallen. Few players you will ever hear manage to impart such feel, melody and purity while playing with such blistering speed.

Their set tonight is a delight, a multi-pronged celebration of their latest album, their illustrious career and their return to the road to do what they do and love best.

Despite COVID’s worst efforts, our live music and progressive music scenes survive and remain strong and determined. This night and these three bands are living proof of this.