Gambino got the game locked
Donald Glover is a man of many talents. He has found success in many facets, from his music career to his acting career spanning Community to Solo. Arguably, he is one of the most talented artists around today. Releasing the fascinating “This Is America” last year taking aim at the treatment of black people in America and the stereotypes that come with being black in America. It truly was a triumph in terms of lyrics that kept it simple, yet, to the point and don’t get me started on the accompanying music video. It’s been nearly 3 years since the release of “Awaken, My Love” my favourite album of his, which blends R&B, soul, funk and psychedelic rock. It was a near masterpiece and a nice departure from his hip hop routes, all culminating to make for one of my favourite albums from 2016.
I was especially saddened to hear that this tour was going to be his last ever. Presumably, meaning his last ever tour under the Childish Gambino moniker and that he wishes to continue his musical career but under a different project name. Whilst the latter part isn’t confirmed, this will almost certainly be his last tour as Gambino with him all but confirming this during the gig. This made it all the more necessary to get tickets to see this gig. And what a gig it was, admittedly I couldn’t see much (and I’m quite tall) as the crowd at the o2 was filled to the brim. We soon learned that the lack of spacing was due to the setup of the stage with Gambino having a walkway extending into the standing area allowing for more intimate moments with the crowd.
To begin the stage and set design was outstanding with extravagant laser shows and moving elements toward the back of the main stage that had visuals projected on to them. It really made for some jaw dropping visuals, it didn’t quite reach the level of madness of The 1975s visual design, but, it came pretty close. Featuring a spectacular array of vibrant colours and some pretty striking visual imagery, for example at one point we see visuals projected of Gambino being plunged into an abyss of water, it was powerful stuff. A truly beautiful display that only few artists manage to accomplish. Hip hop artists in general seem to go out of their way to produce spectator stage design whether its Travis Scott and his psychedelic theme park plucked straight from his brain, or Kanye West’s suspended platform, hip hop artists really seem to go all out making for a more complete experience. Some rock artists need to take note and step up their visual elements, The 1975 have proven that rock bands are able to achieve this.
Gambino himself was full of energy, dancing constantly not making much room for a breather in between. His dancing very rhythmic to match the soulful music of ‘Awaken, My Love’ and dance moves that matched what we saw in the “This is America” video. Not only this Glover made time to interact and engage with the crowd, something that always makes live shows feel all the more special. At one point entering the lower bowl of the arena and making his way into the seated area where he begun singing in the middle of the crowd. Not many artists take time to really engage with the crowd like this, it makes it more than just a person singing to an audience. He announces at the start of this gig that “this is church” and to drop the phones. From that point on we were in Gambino’s world, his church, one filled with funk and soul. He opened the setlist with one of his new tracks and unfortunately I am able to say much of these new tracks as I am currently unable to listen to them in isolation. From what I can remember the new tracks “Atavista”, “Algorythm” and “Human Sacrifice” all sounded great. In particularly, “Human Sacrifice” which featured this excellent beat drop.
What made the gig truly special and a stand out to most other live hip hop shows is that Gambino had the backing of a full live band. Having that makes the show feel more real and authentic than just playing to a backing track or a live DJ, whilst the latter is still infinitely better than the first, a live band is better in all aspects. This allowed for intricate guitar solos and for Gambino to experiment with and change around some of his songs, for example adding a rap verse to funky “Boogieman” from “Awaken, My Love”. He even made time for his guitarist to come up onto the walkway and lead the way with a blistering guitar solo, it really helps add a new element to the overall show. It makes it more that just a rap concert and other hip hop artists should take note. Whilst there are cases of artists playing with a live band, Kendrick Lamar being one of them, its really few and far between.
The gig had plenty of standout moments, from his speech about hatred and division and the shithouse that is Brexit and Trump, which garnered a rapturous response from the crowd. This speech lead into the track “Riot” another excellently soulful, funky track from “Awaken, My Love”. Many of the standout performances came from that album in fact which really made full use of Gambino’s live band. However, the crowd really got going to Gambino’s BIGGEST tracks with “Sweatpants” to “This Is America” being standouts. In fact, every song Gambino played were excellent with each track allowing for a unique live experience. Disappointingly, he didn’t play the full version of “Me and your mama”, one of my favourite tracks of his. At least, he gave a little taste by performing a part of the opening, but, the rest of the setlist certainly made up for this small omission. He ended the show with his most well known song “Redbone”, it always astounds me that it’s actually Glover singing and really that’s a testament to his vocal capabilities. He has a broad, dynamic range that fits the multitude of genres his music spans from hip hop, funk, jazz, soul to even rock. It was truly a great way to end a special gig.
Overall, it was a special gig filled with many intimate moments. It truly is a shame that many people now won’t get a chance to see Glover performing as Gambino, unless he ever decides to revive the project later down the line. He is expected to release his last album later this year and already it seems like it’s going to be a good one.