Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Ashley Wright
Last night was the second time I’ve seen Donald Glover own a stage.
The first was many moons ago at Carnegie Hall in New York; he was opening for Joel McHale. I laughed until I cried, hanging onto Glover’s every word as he strode across the stage or commanded the audience’s attention from its center. While that first show was considerably more subdued and had considerably less production value than last night’s sold out live performance, the audience at the Fillmore seemed as enthralled with Glover’s alter ego, Childish Gambino, as I was with Glover at Carnegie Hall.
Much like his varied career as an actor, writer, and rapper, Gambino’s stage show combines the best elements of theatre and music: His stage set-up was a multi-level representation of “his” living room, complete with sagging couches, table lamps and meandering extras who Gambino “kicked out” of his house at the end of “I. The Party” – “Get the fuck outta my house!” screamed the audience as the sheepish crew left the stage. Amid the various pieces of furniture was his live band: a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and an incredibly energetic woman on a keyboard. Gambino’s piano was front and center; he leapt up and down from the accompanying bench as he hyped the audience.
In addition to these theatrical elements, Gambino’s set incorporated a ton of interactive social media moments. Before he made his way onto the stage, a live feed of the audience’s tweets about the show was scrolling across the giant screen at the front of the room. (These tweets were pretty much exactly what you’d expect: “White ppl can say n*gga tonight!,” then: “If I hear 1 whte prsn say n*gga tonight…” A big topic also seemed to be the amount of white girls/people at the show and, of course, “tits.”)
In the middle of his set, Gambino took a silent poll via a second giant screen that descended between the stage and the front row. Gambino asked the audience to respond to the question “This song makes me feel…” using social media. The audience could choose from more normal answers like “Some type of way” or more obscure references like “Roscoe’s wetsuit,” a concept that relates to the screenplay Gambino wrote to accompany Because the Internet. (These two answers received the most votes of the evening.) Various vignettes, including a brief scene of kids getting into a fist fight and then one shooting the other and people having a girl-girl-guy threesome in a sumptuous bedroom, played on the screen behind Gambino as his band prepared between songs. There were three settings during the show: Gambino’s living room; a forest and bonfire scene; and a cascading curtain of rain that rippled across the screen as Gambino’s voice boomed over the roiling crowd.
Gambino’s high-energy, full-participation set – every single person in the room was screaming the lyrics to every song along with him, pushing each other and jumping up and down – consisted primarily of live band versions of tracks off of his new album, Because the Internet, after which he rapped over guitar-heavy arrangements of his popular previous work including “Black Faces” and “Freaks and Geeks.” Like his other shows on the Deep Web tour, Gambino treated the audience to a freestyle session toward the end of his set during which he shared the mic with Steve G. Lover, one of the rap artists featured on Because the Internet.
Gambino’s seemingly boundless energy, rough vocals (he was losing his voice toward the end of the set), the occasional crack or unexpected pitch change in his sometimes adolescent voice, all the props and theatre, and the live band made the show – which could just as easily have been a simple live performance of the album – worth the price of admission. Gambino knows how to put on a show in the truest sense of the word. I’d see him again in a heartbeat.