Justin Duke

The John Byrd EP

My favorite record is The John Byrd EP, by Death Cab For Cutie.

It’s a live album — snippets and recordings from their tour in the spring of 2004. It was recorded and released to mark their departure from the Seattle label Barsuk in favor of a new deal with Capitol Records. The titular John Byrd is the band’s sound engineer; you can hear the frontman praise him as “the man backstage with a hat and a beard”.

Given that that this is a Seattle band, those are fond words.

Death Cab for Cutie’s move from indie to big-time was precipitated by, of all things, The OC — one of the first examples of an indie band making it big on the small screen, the Washington heartthrobs found them catapulted into uncomfortable fame by montages of teenage Californian angst. This band was playing in cafes in 2003, Coachella in 2004.

I got the chance to see Death Cab play Transatlanticism, their first ‘big album’, live at Bumbershoot in September. It was a great show, but it struck me as so different than my popular perception of them. For me, the magic of music comes from listening to it alone, and yet feeling a connection: there’s a level of camaraderie with these people you’ve never met. Even last week, Drake’s new album leaked and for a few precious hours the Internet exploded with fervor over where to find the precious tracks. It was entertaining to periodically refresh the bit.ly link I used and watch the download count rise: from hundreds a minute to thousands a minute, until it finally settled down to a few dozen per refresh.

I wonder how a band feels about playing the same album over and over for ten years. Is it like sticking in a dead-end job, knowing that there are greener pastures elsewhere but comforted by the regularity of friendly coworkers and routine? Music is the interaction between nostalgia and novelty; but at some point we have to cross the line between looking back and staying behind.

Below is the closing track on The John Byrd EP — a song off of their then-newest album seguing into a cover of 80 indie band Sebadoh’s Brand New Love:

It’s perfect.

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