Review: Donald Glover & Childish Gambino at The Paradise in Boston, MA
If you don’t know Donald Glover from his role as Troy Barnes on the NBC hit comedy Community, I’m revoking your pop-culture card. You may even be familiar with his stand up, his Derrick Comedy troupe, or are perhaps aware that he’s written some of 30 Rock’s funniest lines. It’s probably less likely that you know about his rapping career under the moniker Childish Gambino, but given that he’s playing sold-out shows across the country, make no mistake that even if music were the only thing he were pursuing, he’d have the chops for that, too.
Donald Glover may play a loveable nerd on TV, and he may even be a loveable nerd in real life, but don’t expect Childish Gambino to rap about lollipops and Reading Rainbow. I’m not easily offended, but I was a little shocked the first time I heard some of Childish Gambino’s verses – his rap style is initially a bit off-putting since it’s so incongruous with his television persona. He juxtaposes some pretty explicit and somewhat misogynistic lyrics with puns and earnest vulnerable glimpses into his life, patching together a variegated image of what it must be like as a nerdy black hipster that got so insanely famous under the age of 30. The sociologist and developmental counselor in me could get into some pretty serious depth dissecting his lyrics regarding bifurcated identities, but the truth is most of that sensibility flew out the window the second I witnessed his infectious onstage energy.
At the Paradise on Friday night there was no official opening act – Glover kicked off the show by telling stand-up before he transitioned to his music. He joked that for people going to see him who haven’t listened to his music before it would be kind of like going to see Dave Chapelle if he were to do stand-up for the first 45 minutes and then announce he was going to play oboe for the second half of the show. In Donald’s comedy set, he made references to Community cast-mates, Justin Bieber, told a story about hanging out in New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Reggie Bush stealing his glasses, and throughout the comedy and music sets had video guest stars including James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, comedian (and beat-boxer) Reggie Watts, the voice of John Legend, and a sketch between Donald and Future Donald (and Future Future Donald) to knit the show’s segue between comedy and rap.
Most of Childish Gambino’s set was pulled from his most recent album, Culdesac, and his latest EP with the hit single “Freaks and Geeks” (link NSFW). I was kind of surprised he didn’t pull more songs from “I AM JUST A RAPPER” and “I AM JUST A RAPPER 2” since this was the “IAMDONALD” tour, and rapping over indie bands like Sleigh Bells/Yeasayer/Grizzly Bear/Animal Collective, etc., is kind of a signature hip-hop move. His picks weren’t disappointing, though, and were made more impressive with the live instrumentalists instead of just him + DJ. The bassist, violinist, and keyboard player were all equipped with drum equipment (in addition to the actual drummer) so when they needed a thick beat, or sharper claps like during the Adele cover, it was far more dynamic than if it had just been channeled through a speaker.
As for the crowd, I’ll describe it the same way that Glover has described NYU and Jurassic 5 concerts: “there’s supposed to be black people there, but they’re not.” The crowd was mostly white college kids, but they ranged from dapper gents dressed to the nines (complete with fedoras and pocket squares) to a trashy couple full-on making out, heels in hand, knocking into their neighbors. Ignoring the impropriety on the floor, Childish Gambino’s set was steady until the end, really outdoing himself at the finale with a freestyle rap and an explosive version of “Not Going Back.” Donald Glover is one seriously talented dude, and while 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan may have earned a fictional “EGOT” on 30 Rock, don’t think for a second that this is out of the very real Donald Glover’s reach.
-Let Me Dope You
-Freaks and Geeks
-Do Ya Like
-Medley: Bitch, Look At Me Now (Two Weeks)/Yes/Got This Money/I Be On That
-Rollin’ in the Deep (Adele cover ft. John Legend)
-Put it in My Video (ft. Reggie Watts)
-Lights Turned On
-Break (All of the Lights)
-Not Going Back