“You can’t be a bunch of gang members at a Childish Gambino show,” Danny Brown screamed mid-set, agitated by a couple of aggressive kids towards the front. Five minutes later, the Detroit rapper was in the crowd, rapping in one of the kid’s faces, and probably giving the nearby fans a heart attack. Sadly, it was the only highlight in an otherwise dreary opening set.
It was a troubling scene for Brown at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre last night, where he served as opener for Childish Gambino. He started early – roughly 7:30 p.m. – and performed to a sold-out crowd that hardly knew him. One nearby concertgoer’s text called his choice of wardrobe “douchey”, while another (okay, a close friend) texted he was the worst performer he’s ever seen. It was all sort of mind-boggling, especially given the choice setlist, which opened with “Radio Song” into “Lie4″ and then spiraled through the rest of last year’s critically-acclaimed album, XXX.
To be fair, Brown didn’t help by keeping the mic so close to his mouth. Most of his garbled words coagulated into one monotonous beat, which stripped away the most talented aspects about him: his humorous lyrics. Lucky for him, he managed to slip in a few words off “I Will” into the performance, which perked some ears, but not enough – it was already too late. This crowd didn’t buy it, and it’s unlikely he walked off stage with anyone heading home to download his album.
Things didn’t start buzzing until 30 minutes later once Gambino, aka Donald Glover, hopped on stage. Girls pierced the ancient walls with their screams and chants of “Gambino” beefed up the balmy atmosphere underneath. Glover, mysteriously hidden within a red hoodie, wasted no time and powered through Camp opener, “Outside”. In a complete 180, the crowd chanted and fist pumped to every word, both verse and chorus, adding this arena-like aura to Glover’s performance. With rafter-reaching tracks like “Freaks and Geeks” or “Heartbeat”, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Glover’s been at this since 2008, but he acts like he’s in his tenth year. He moves with authority, spits with finesse, surrounds himself in near-orchestrations, and wears his comedic heart on his ruffled sleeve, specifically on tracks like “Fire Fly”, “All the Shine”, and “L.E.S.”. Ring a bell? All of these qualities make it easy to draw comparisons to Yeezy, or even latter day Jay-Z. Some might argue that’s his gimmick – twisting the hip-hop genre with sensational, self-obsessed lyrics and blatant, sugary beats – but whatever the case, it’s hard to dismiss true talent. It helps that he’s an actor, sure, but developing an on-stage swagger takes raw skill. He’s got it wrapped in plastic and stowed away.
Towards the end, after he already ran through most of his surefire singles (or “Bonfire”), Glover returned to deliver an encore stuffed with surprises. He knocked out his most recent track, “Make ‘Em Mad”, alongside Steve G. Lover, and then freestyled shortly after, dropping a reference to 8 Mile (fitting for the primarily white audience) and how he still lives off the 30 Rock residuals – which, sadly, comes to an end next year. “Here I am in the world of Kanye,” he tossed out somewhere in the madness. Yes, the land of Yeezy, an artist who made hip-hop a natural beast in the arenas. With that in mind, one might have considered this a hometown show for Glover; after all, he certainly treated it like one.
It’s just too bad the 312 has no love for Detroit.
Photography by Heather Kaplan.
Childish Gambino setlist:
Freaks and Geeks
Do Ya Like
Difference / I’m On It
Rolling in the Deep (Remix)
All the Shine
You See Me
We Ain’t Them*
Make ‘Em Mad (w/ Steve G. Lover)
Freestyle (w/ Steve G. Lover)
Lights Turned On
* – Not 100% confident, though there were lines in the track from this song.