Pictured above: Gambino promotional poster spotted in Brooklyn, via the iamdonald blog.
Last week, Childish Gambino packed Terminal 5 with hordes of adoring, screaming maniacs who knew every word of the jabs on his recordings. It was encouraging. Seven months ago, he was just another actor with the dream of being a musician, and few took any of our praise with any long-term legitimacy. "It seems like they all want me to fail/But I'm not going back" he dropped on the closer "Not Going Back," which was more than a fitting coda for the evening. Lots of people like to pigeonhole Donald Glover, and he's not yet an anointed critical darling by the music Illuminati. Pitchfork reports on every bowel movement of Tyler The Creator, but largely ignore Glover's presence. It's baffling. Childish Gambino is standing on the precipice of being the next big thing in alternative rap. His pathos, combined with humor, wit, musicianship, and an enviable vitality make him a naturally admirable and electric talent.
The show itself was full of hits. Camp, Gambino's debut album on Glassnote Records, is due out next week. With it comes a new set of songs garnering positive reactions from the fans at the show, despite the unfamiliarity. Slow jam "You See Me" (an homage to Asian girls at UCLA) excels at wordplay but how do you get a crowd to sing along to something they've never heard? The solution: the band introduced the wit via projected lyrics on the back wall, lyric video style. Touches like this take new material on a large stage and create an engaging experience.
Old favorites elicited an extremely positive reaction. Songs from Gabino's EP "My Shine," "Lights Turned On," "Not Going Back," as well as a few choice numbers off his collected free releases (like "Hero" from Culdesac), all inspired singalongs. The live band added an extra layer of energy. But the center of this universe is Glover, bouncing around like an animal, laughing, yelling, taking off his shirt, and having more fun than anyone in the room. All we can do is follow his lead.
Glover's love of the craft is the only fuel his career needs. Towards the end of the show, a horde of screaming fans obliged Glover as he asked for a simultaneous bounce. Experiencing this from the balcony was really something. Although Childish Gambino may not have a radio hit on his hands (yet), but he's inspired a large enough cult following to sustain his creative juices for years to come. And with that kind of promising longevity, he's already a success.