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all photos: Julian Vu
By: Lea Argo & Julian Vu

There’s always been a certain kind of perverse pleasure by audiences in seeing some performers fail when they try to do too much or stretch themselves too far. Actors who have strayed into the music field are usually an immediate source of ridicule or end up a cultural in-joke – William Shatner’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, anyone?

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The line that stretched outside the Black Cat and all the way past Manny and Olga’s on Sunday, May 8th, wasn’t thinking about any of that, though. Donald Glover (most notably famous for his role as the unwittingly hilarious Troy from NBC’s Community) and his alter-ego Childish Gambino were there to play – really just Glover, but rapping, and with a great live band as support.

Donald Glover

Glover might be better known as a comedian, (or even as a momentary Gap model) but this was a showcase for his music above all else. The show started with a short stand-up set, with plenty of very funny, very self-aware jabs at both himself and pop culture figures like Justin Bieber and Reggie Bush from the New Orleans Saints, before making way for Childish Gambino. The filmed intro to the set (which included him arriving from the future with hooks for hands to warn about the dangers of actors making music, in case anyone was concerned his humor wouldn’t pervade through the entire show), had the audience laughing and cheering before he even took the stage again.

Donald Glover

Glover’s passion for his music is obvious. He climbed speakers, hung from ceiling pipes, jumped, sweated, gestured, sang, rapped, and swaggered his way through the roughly hour-long set. If his quick-witted lines and clever lyrics, infused with the geek, indie music, and pop culture references that have gained him such a strong following (lines such as ‘My swagger’s New York but my home is the South, and it’s amazing how I eat more pussy than Alf,’ his failed attempt to be cast as Spider-Man in the new adaptation, or the surprise video cameo of James Murphy [from LCD Soundsystem] for example, his sheer enthusiasm and charisma would be enough to sell the material.

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Witty observations about the Apatow/UCB circle (or mostly Ken Jeong’s genitalia) alone does not make for an excellent show, the live band added so much to the delivery of Gambino’s lyrical flow. One of the tracks off of the album samples Grizzly Bear’s “two weeks” which was re-created live, replete with spot-on block harmonies that rival the original.

Donald Glover

The heavy use of unique percussion like trashcans and drum machines helped carry some of the weaker tunes from the record, and in fact transform them into an increasingly better live experience. There were softer and more introspective moments too, which Gambino tastefully handled. The crowd perhaps went craziest when Gambino and his band did covered Adele/Jamie XX’s “Rolling in the Deep”, or when they performed “Put it in my Video” with Reggie Watts on screen singing the hook. Everyone in the sold out audience sang along.

Donald Glover

If anyone showed up at the Black Cat expecting to see another actor on that in-joke list, they left disappointed. If there is actually a curse against actors/musicians then Donald Glover either hasn’t heard it or obviously doesn’t care, or just has the skills that, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

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