Childish Gambino at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Wednesday July 17, 2019
PSA: At an increasing number of venues, large bags that are more than 30cm x 30cm need to be cloaked before entry into the arena, which can take around half an hour – either side of the show – depending on the length of queues.
We notice heaps of unchaperoned teens decked out in their finest ‘gangsta’ threads in attendance this evening as we locate our seats inside the arena. Channel Tres plus two backing dancers are already owning the stage and Sexy Black Timberlake makes us wish for a gin and juice to complete the picture. Channel Tres is proudly straight outta Compton and the fusion of styles incorporated into his beats goes way beyond Snoop/Dre-inspired; there’s digitised flute plus deep house grooves, and we can’t help but writhe in our seats. Intelligent choreography sometimes literally interprets Channel Tres’ bars, but it’s somehow never cheesy, and the rapper impressively drops in and out of the synchronised dance phrases as required. Closer Topdown transports us to downtown LA, cruising in a convertible, and we’re stoked to have tuned into Channel Tres.
During the break, we score a sneak peek of of what’s happening in the backstage corridors as Donald Glover and his backing dancers gee-up. Our excitement levels rise to fever pitch.
One thing’s for certain: Glover loves a catwalk. Punters who raced to the front of the stage when doors opened probably wish they’d headed for the end of the catwalk instead, because Childish Gambino spends the majority of his performance there.
Intergalactic lasers circle the end of the catwalk like a descending UFO. On stage, the black curtain drops to reveal the Childish Gambino backing band, raised high up on a platform at the back of space in straight-line formation. There’s a stagehand behind each moveable piece of this stage set, which is in constant flux.
Glover suddenly materialises at the end of the catwalk under a single vertical laser beam – is this some kind of mad David Copperfield shit!? Fans squeal in disbelief. Glover stands there, hunched over in ‘old man’ posture, shirtless, wearing white pants. He remains motionless as a choir of five, sporting black robes and spread evenly across the front part of the stage, break into song. Then Glover springs to life as if awakened by a bolt of lightning: The Church Of Childish Gambino is in session! As the choir takes care of the Hey Mr. DJ part in Algorythm (“Everybody, move your body, now DO it!”) we marvel at Glover’s funky travelling steps as he dances up and down the catwalk – is there actually a spine in there? His torso is super-flexible.
Glover requests that we put our phones away, pointing out that this show is for “us in here”, not everyone out there (but unfortunately punters just can’t can’t help themselves and persist in capturing crap footage on their smartphones throughout). He can also add ‘Inspirational Speaker’ to his CV (alongside actor, comedian, writer, producer, director, musician and DJ) – Glover stresses that everybody is “a delicate flower”, even those among us who act like they’ve got their shit together. “You matter!” he hollers. “And don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
A cameraman plus team of security guards follow Glover out of the arena and into the foyer area so that we can follow his whereabouts on the giant screens. We madly look for door numbers to try to work out where he’s gonna appear next. Door 20? Damn, we entered through Door 10! Glover and co. strut back into the arena and down an aisle, fans’ greedy hands reaching out for a brush with famous flesh at every turn. He pauses halfway down the aisle to introduce his phenomenal band while they continue to jam, showing off just how accomplished these musicians are by shouting out spontaneous instructions – they don’t miss a single command or beat.
“I can feel the energy out here from you guys and I just wanted to tell you that you’re appreciated,” Glover shares before introducing a song we’re told he wrote at a time when he felt like he “wasn’t being heard” and summoning a unison clap-along. His voice during Stand Tall – WHAAAAAAAT!? Obviously Glover can rap his arse off, but his falsetto is also impossibly good. His expressive eyes work overtime, the playful side on show to offset his more political material.
One of the new songs Childish Gambino plays tonight, Human Sacrifice, is a bona fide banger, and we don’t need no encouragement to pogo when that colossal, percussive beat drops. “Holy Spirit, do you hear me? Do you love me? Can you hold me up?” On the raised platform, the backing band’s heads rock back and forth – perfectly in sync – and we notice the keyboard player helicoptering and whipping her hair back and forth like a complete boss, possessed by the music. Feels Like Summer brings the heat.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away…” It’s the song we’ve all been waiting for but actually forgot about, due to being so enthralled! Backup dancers dressed in school uniforms materialise and Glover breaks into his trademark elastic moves. Few will forget where they were when they first heard/watched the video for This Is America; the song’s release marked a definite ‘moment’ in history. Live, as predicted, this masterpiece of a track drives us absolutely bonkers and closes out the main set.
On the big screen we watch Glover sitting on some steps, chilling. He hears our cheers and shakes his head in exaggerated fashion as if to say, “Nah, not good enough,” goading us until a collective scream rises up that could be heard from the moon. Finally, Childish Gambino rates our decibel-busting roar worthy and returns to stage.
The Sober keys intro signals uncontrollable mayhem. Glover’s vocal delivery during this one makes us wonder whether he is, in fact, the Sexy Black Timberlake Channel Tres references in his track. 3005 ushers in some seriously sensual dance moves and fans yell along with every, “Hold up!” Redbone keeps our hips moving as the band perform this song to perfection: that bassline, the debilitating keys – Lord have mercy on our souls! Glover concludes his performance in the middle of the catwalk, facing upstage, in crucifix pose and looking to the heavens. “Love who you are!” are the final words of wisdom from The Gospel According To Glover.
Wandering across the MCG footbridge post-show, a youngster is overheard gushing, “I touched someone’s hand who touched Childish Gambino!” Little buddy, he touched us all.