Death Cab for Cutie- The John Byrd EP

By Stephen Paulin

Published on Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Death Cab for Cutie’s Spring 2004 tour they recorded what would end up being their final release for Barsuk Records before signing to Atlantic Records in November 2004, and fittingly it was a tribute to their sound engineer John Byrd. The EP is a collection of 7 live songs by Death Cab played at three different venues, the Wiltern in Los Angeles, the Filmore in San Francisco, and the Showbox in the band’s hometown of Seattle. Luckily they don’t just stick to songs from their breakthrough album Transatlanticism, but play a good mix of songs from We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes and The Photo Album as well. The EP does what every live record should try to do, make you feel like you are actually there, but at the same time make you crave to go and see the band performing live, and it does this all in under 40 minutes.

The EP fades into We Laugh Indoors, which sounds quite poor and flat in comparison to the rest of the record and seems to go on for longer than is needed, until about halfway through the song when Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla seem to pull themselves together and the song instantly gets more energetic. This is then followed by the first of three songs in a row played in the band’s home. Why You’d Want To Live Heredisplays the band’s characteristic lo-fi style of their earlier work that has been lost in their most recent release Plans. This is then followed by one of the more forgetable songs on the EP, Lightness, which while sounding good offers nothing of much difference from the album version of the song. Then comes one of the best songs on the whole EP in my opinion, Photobooth, although I may be slightly biased as I love this song more than any other. Played live this song sounds better than ever and far more energetic than anything else on the whole album, and it completely engages the crowd. The drums over the electronic drum beat sound near perfect and amazingly upbeat and combined with Walla’s guitar and Gibbard’s excellent voice it easily puts the rest of the record to shame. This is then followed by an unnecessarily long 9 minute version of We Looked Like Giants, which normally is a good song but in this case sounds directionless for several minutes in the middle and can get quite tiring listening to, despite opening very well. There is then a predictable version of 405 which doesn’t stray far from the album version of the song but nonetheless sounds good and is reminiscent of the band’s more lo-fi beginnings pre-O.C. The album then closes with a solid version of Blacking Out The Friction that then leads into a cover of the Sebadoh’s Brand New Love, which is a fitting end to a great live EP.

However the songs aren’t what makes this EP good, it’s the fact that it feels like you actually are there in the crowd. This is done by including sections of Gibbard talking to the crowd in between songs and how the songs are mixed together with such skill. Even though they are played at different venues, it is hard to hear when one track ends and and the next starts when listening to it right through. As well as this it’s great to hear the shouts from the crowd to the band, like “Take it all off” at the end of We Laugh Indoors, to which Gibbard quickly replies “Oh, it’s coming off, buddy.”

Although it isn’t the best introduction to Death Cab for new fans it will be something that pleases those that have been listening to them for a while and know their songs well. Although the record could have been more unusual, with perhaps a Postal Service cover thrown in there or some of the songs being experimented with a bit to make it more essential for everyone who is a fan of Death Cab for Cutie Instead, this EP is more a record for completists like myself.

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