Beyond Unplugged: Black Cab Sessions

A group of 30-somethings in London came up with a novel way of meeting their favorite bands and giving them an unusual venue to promote their work. The project is called the Black Cab Sessions.

The creators choose artists they like and ask for 10 minutes of their time. The performers hop in the back of a black cab, and give an acoustic performance that's then posted on the Black Cab Sessions' Web site. Their concept is simple: one song, one take, one cab.

"Nightline" tagged along on a session with Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie.

The indie rock behemoths sat on the bench seat. The cameraman, Jonno Stevenson, and this reporter (also acting as soundman), occupied the jump seats.

Londons Cab BandsPlay
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It's as easy as that. Gibbard and Walla are used to playing for the hip and the angst-ridden, but on this day the duo were playing for one reporter, one cameraman and Danny the cabdriver.

Surprisingly, Gibbard said it wasn't the group's smallest audience. "I think the smallest audience we ever had was the bartender," he said.

Walla said they agreed to participate because "it is both weird and reputable."

Their single take sounded perfect. The camerawork was intentionally amateurish, and that's kind of the point.

"We've had a lot of labels ring us up all the time and say, 'Come in for lunch and maybe we can get this band in.' And no. We don't like this band," said Stevenson, adding they've turned down "loads and loads of people, all the time."

The only big hurdle was getting the first big act to agree.

"And then that got a bit of respect and then people thought, OK, we'll consider, rather than it [being] just a bunch of idiots with a camera," said Stevenson.

They've now done nearly 50 sessions, all posted on their Web site.

"The dreaded thing when you start and you're halfway through it and you realize the record button isn't on," said Chris Pattinson, one of the founders.

"Or someone hasn't turned their phone off," said Gen Stevens, another founding member. "Or we had one thing where we did take quite a few takes with a cellist."

Jonny Byers' cello posed a few logistical challenges.

"He had a baroque cello, which doesn't have a spike, so he was clamping it between his thighs, sitting on the edge of the seat and we were going round all these corners," said Stevens.

"That's the weirdest thing I've ever done," said Byers.

They don't just do music pop and rock. Take the violinist who sat on the floor so his bow wouldn't touch the roof.

And the poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah has had a quarter million hits on YouTube. But these guys haven't made a bean. Stevens calls it the "best hobby ever."

"If we started making money off it then people would start saying, well, we want a cut and blah, blah, blah," said Stevens.

So no one makes any money off the sessions?

"The cabbie gets the money," said Pattinson. "The cabbie's the winner."

And the passersby, if they bother to look up and listen.

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