LIVE REVIEW: Sabina @ Highline Ballroom


Much like butter, David Byrne makes everything better.


I was reluctant to go to the Sabina show the other week.  This wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm, just an abundance of banal exhaustion.  Having travelled from Bed-Stuy, to the garment district, to Far Rockaway, and then back to Bed-Stuy between the hours of 8 and 8, the prospect of catching an 8:21 train into Chelsea was not an alluring one.  But, I was aware of my responsibility, as well as the knowledge that anticipation is always worse than outcome.  I knew that once I was at the Highline Ballroom, actually experiencing the show, I would be grateful.  It’s kind of like going to the gym.  I hear.


So I raced home and peeled off my work clothes, ripped and latex-larded from making enormous bowling pin costumes all day.    Stuffing my mouth with the sad food that inhabits my fridge, I hopped around trying to simultaneously eat and switch shoes.  I was out the door still chewing, a task as efficient as it is visually unsettling.


Walking from the C train to the show, a man with close-cropped, white hair whizzed past me on a bicycle.  I froze, nearly getting grazed by an oncoming van.  I stood in the middle of the street, watching him dismount and go into the venue.  With a safe amount of delay, I crossed the street and followed him into the venue.  “That’s fucking David Byrne,” I thought.


After checking in at the ticket counter I roamed the dance floor, jerking my head like a rooster every which way to spot that little tuft of silver.  He’d vanished, probably to some VIP alcove imperceptible to the plebian eye.


As minutes passed I began to question myself.  Maybe it wasn’t David Byrne.  No one in the crowd seemed to be in a frenzy like I was, and surely if it were him a hoard of people would be searching with me.  But, maybe it was…


I eventually snapped back to the reason I was there in the first place: Sabina.  She started her set on the assigned hour, which is practically a lost art among musicians.  She crept on stage in the garb of a modern-day Veruschka: heeled, fringe-cuffed boots, navy silk jumpsuit, and a fur cap of Davey Crockett proportion. I haven’t seen this much charisma onstage since I saw Tony Bennett in Seattle two years ago.  Sabina’s backing band is comprised of suave gentlemen, all savants with their respective instruments.  They opened with “Toujours,” the title track and first single off of Sabina’s latest album.


One of the record’s more contemporary sounding tracks, “Toujours” has a choppy, frenetic quality to it, made all the more frantic by a B-3 keyboard pulse throughout.  Sabina’s energy radiated from the stage.  How someone can play with such enthusiasm, and in heels no less, is a complete mystery to me.  She flitted around, playfully dancing with her band mates and hopping like a baby chick.  By song three she’d already spit out four different languages in her low, Neko-esque voice.  She chats frequently with the crowd, asking them questions, encouraging their participation, and shouting out to friends.  This woman is a true performer.

Still, as captivated as a I am by Sabina, my mind won’t stop screaming “Show me the David Byrne.  SHOWWWW ME the David Byrne!” As if he heard, a little, silver head of hair appeared in the caged area by stage left.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  Is he going to come on stage?  Or is he just going backstage?  He started to creep behind the sound guy, into a curtained area.  With humble steps he made his way on stage, and for the first time the crowd realized what was happening.


“Who is that?” a woman in front of me asked her boyfriend.  “ It’s David Byrne!”  I had wedged myself between them and interjected with the subtlety of Rain Man. “David Byrne, definitely David Byrne, definitely.”


So my wish came true.  David and Sabina sang together for one beautifully somber song.  The music fell back, bringing their vocals to the forefront.  All I could do was shake.  These are the moments you think: “say what you will, New York aint all that bad.”


David left the stage with as much caution as he mounted it, and remained in the crowd the rest of the show.  Not in a fancy booth with bottle service, just in the crowd, bobbing his head and smiling, and chatting amicably with anyone who approached him.  I was too shy to say anything, but I was dancing about three feet away from him, so as far as I’m concerned, I danced with David Byrne.  Definitely.


The rest of Sabina’s set was entertaining, humorous, and full of enthusiasm.  At one point, during a performance of a song I’ve yet to identify, two groups of gentlemen held up finger-painted signs depicting flaming feces, each reading “Hot Poo.”  I searched the Google high and low for a song with such a title, but was left none the wiser to this inside joke.  Please enlighten me if it didn’t elude you.


Between a pop-up appearance by David Byrne, pyro-poop jokes, and one of the strangest crowds I’ve ever encountered, the night was far from a disappointment.  I’m just glad I was able to drag my ass to the Highline Ballroom afterall.

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