There are many firsts when you are in a band. The first EP you release, the first tour, the first night you all sleep in the van together, and the first time you see and hear someone singing along to your songs thousands of miles from home. These are just a few of the firsts Roadkill Ghost Choir has been checking off over the last few weeks, and a couple of weeks ago they got the chance to check off their first show in Charlottesville Virginia.
Opening the set with a monster 11+ minute performance which blended two new songs “I Could See Everything” and “Dead Friend” into a single musical piece, the Ghost Choir provided the intimate audience with a great introduction and foreshadowing of the dynamic cosmic soundscapes and range they would explore throughout the evening. Starting with a simple strummed guitar, the band built the groundwork of long shimmering pedal steel lines, Wurlitzer backdrops, and Brian Eno inspired ambient tones that intertwined beautifully with Andrew Shepard’s dynamic and powerful lead vocal range. “There’s no meaning to the words left on the lips of an old dead friend,” he sang as he bent and shifted between a brooding country twang, Tom Petty croon, and aching grunge yelp in a single line. All the while the band fluidly phased from a mellow country ballad to straight up indie rocker, only to end on an ambient piece that sounded like a pulsating neutron star whose gravity had enveloped everything that had just happened.
As a listener, these ambient transitional pieces provided a space to reflect on what they had just experienced. In this case, it also provided a perfect launch pad for the next tune, a straight up rocker that is still “Untitled”. Turning up the grungy guitar, bass, drum and vocal lines on a dime, the inclusion of non-traditional drawn out pedal steel and vintage electric piano gave it an overall fresh and new feeling.
The lead track “Beggars Guild” from their new EP Quiet Light switched gears back to a more country tone as Kiffy Myers traded in the pedal steel for a banjo and Joey Davoli moved between the keys and some tasteful trumpet lines. These dynamics, along with the ease at which these six young musicians play together, makes this an inspiring band to watch. Understanding and having as much respect for the empty spaces as they do for the ones they are filling with vibrations indicates a level of maturity in their approach to making music that isn’t often found within a band at the beginning of its career. Guitarist Stephen Garza describes it as “all about finding your space, we are all good at sitting out when we have to, we know when to be silent, which is a key element of our music.”
Experimenting with building ambient pieces from this silence has also provided a nebula from where songs can seem to consolidate in the live setting. Creating what could be the soundtrack to the coolest sci-fi movie you’ll never see, the clicking drums and weaving bass of “Down and Out” seemed to spawn from a simple swirling pulsation, illustrating how brothers Zach and Maxx Shepard, bass and drums respectively, can interweave a strong foundation that allows spaces for the other band members to find their place. This strong foundation also allows each member to move in and out freely and fluidly as they transitioned between musical ideas within and between songs like “Bird in my Window” and “Devout”, while never losing the power of the core song.
Closing the show on what Andrew referred to as his current favorite track, “Drifter” is a prime example of all of the musical spaces this band is currently exploring in a single track. Influenced heavily by krautrock bands like Neu! and Can, this track drips with a vibrant, but dark energy and emotion that is a byproduct of the sum of its individual parts. Each musician creates a unique waveform that when synced together blossoms into something that is quite moving as they explode in a frenzy to end the show.
It’s to be expected that most bands on their first tour are usually still trying to iron out the kinks, and the guys in Roadkill Ghost Choir acknowledge this, saying that they are constantly striving to develop their sound with every show they perform. That they are already as good at what they are and aren’t anywhere near settling though brings nothing but excitement, not only for the next time we get to encounter this band of brothers from Florida, but for where they might take things in the future. Tour number one is under their belts now, and hopefully it won’t be too long before we get to go on another ride through the cosmos with this stellar new band.
Want to hear Roadkill Ghost Choir for yourself? You can stream the Charlottesville show in it's entirety below, or hit the link to download a copy of your very own.
Roadkill Ghost Choir - 10.7.12 - The Box - Charlottesville,VA