Once you get past the band’s name–which summons up images of truck-crushed carcasses of opossums and raccoons on a back country road, but now singing in a heavenly chorus–it is clear that Roadkill Ghost Choir deserves the attention it has been getting since it started up in 2011. The last year alone has seen them perform on television on the “Late Night with David Letterman Show” show, as well as gigs at the Lollapalooza, SXSW, and Bonnaroo festivals..
Hailing from Deland, Florida, about 30 minutes drive southwest from stock car racing mecca Daytona Beach, the band is composed of three Shepard brothers–Andrew, who writes the songs, plays guitar, and is lead singer; Zach on bass; and Maxx on drums–along with Stephen Garza on lead guitar and Kiffy Meyer on steel pedal and banjo.
Having just released their first album In Tongues this past August, the band has been touring the East Coast of the United States, landing at the Mercury Lounge on New York City’s Lower East Side on October 14 for a set lasting a little over an hour.
An enthusiastic full house seemed to be about half fans and half people who have heard the buzz and who were there to investigate. Hailed as a folk-rock group, and playing a lot of acoustic instruments on their recordings, the band mates must have left their “folk” back at their hotel, because they came downtown to Houston Street ready to rock.
Led by the crisp, propulsive drumming of Maxx Shepard, the band played very tightly, as might be expected from a band with three brothers. It was especially satisfying in a live show to hear the drums and bass help drive the band’s sound, because on their recordings the rhythm section is buried in the mix, giving the spotlight to the guitars. But live, in a small club room, the drums and bass stole the show.
Andrew Shepard’s vocals have often been compared to early Tom Petty, also born and bred in Florida, and that’s high praise. And at times the band plays as appealingly as the Heartbreakers. But the band also likes to rock out, brothers Andrew and Zach jumping up and down, each trying to outshake the other with his long hair.
With very little stage banter or introductions to songs, the band played a mixture of tunes from both In Tongues as well as from their 2012 EP, Quiet Light, including “Slow Knife,” “Beggar’s Guild,” and “In the Lion’s Den.” And when the show was over, Andrew Shepard invited the crowd to stick around at the bar at the front of the club for a beer or a cocktail, and talk.