Live review: Childish Gambino, Uptown Amphitheatre, 7/27/2012


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Childish Gambino
Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre
July 27, 2012

It’s fitting the Childish Gambino show started off with a bit of magic. A mostly under-25 crowd half-filled Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre, welcoming the grey drizzle that brought temperatures in the outdoor bandshell to a bearable level. When the rain stopped, it left a gift behind: not one, but two massive, glittering rainbows.

Even the front rows couldn’t resist turning their backs to the stage to gaze on the marvel. They were exact replicas of the rainbows drawn by seven year olds everywhere, stretched out in technicolor over our heads, and for a few moments it seemed to transport the girls in vintage cut-offs and the guys in ironic tees to a simpler time. Even the set-up tracks, like “Gimme the Loot” by Notorious B.I.G., fanned nostalgia for times long gone.

That mood was perfect because Camp, Childish Gambino’s major-label debut, is full of longing for a Neverland that doesn’t quite exist outside of front man Donald Glover’s mind. Camp is a place where kids can be artsy, stupid, smart or lame as fuck — and not be perceived as being any less black because of it. Enormous projections of forests and fireflies at night shored up the theme, giving the concert a sing-along, bonfire feel, and contrasting with the seizure-paced strobe effects of his up-tempo songs.

Backed by a modern band (bassist, guitar player, drummer, keyboardist and laptop dj), Glover gave an energetic show, pogoing around the stage. But just as often, he stood rooted in one spot, shoulders slightly hunched, delivering lyrics raw and ridiculous.

He seemed a bit reserved and disconnected from the audience, though not for a lack of enthusiasm on their part. Outside of the play already written into his verses, or exhortations to get loose, he simply didn’t push much interaction with the crowd. That’s a shame, because they were dying to give it to him. Girls on both sides of me knew every line, and a guy in front of me climbed onto his boy’s shoulders, he was so hyped for the show (seriously, it was hard to get him down).

Glover’s bravado carries a touch of vulnerability, as though he’s not quite sure of his new friends’ affections and is unwilling to open up too much. Beneath the swagger of the self-made sensation, much of the awkward kid still clings.

The number of fans screaming along to his songs word-for-word shouldn’t have caught me off guard, but it did. Counting mixtape Royalty, which was just released this month, Childish Gambino is eight albums deep. His sound has matured and his flow is sharpened; and though he switches it up less, there are fewer Weezy-esque vocal runs and punchlines.

This tour stop, which was postponed back in March when Glover fractured his foot, must have been bittersweet. Childish’s lyrics champion black kids who haven’t seen their lives reflected in any movie or pop-culture trope; those who live in the 'burbs, “go to that white school” and have to navigate family who label them too white as well as the subtle, self esteem-poisoning racism of white friends. It’s a somewhat narrow demographic, so no surprise that the majority of concertgoers didn’t fit it. But I wondered, as the mostly white fans shouted out his poignant, n-word laced lyrics, how they related to lines like “Somethin' for these black kids to call they own/So when you skatin' in your driveway, you not alone.”

“Where my black girls at?” Glover called toward the end of the night. My screams mixed with a few others in the crowd. “My partner likes Indian girls, you all in the house?” At the faint reply he laughed and poked, “Charlotte has one Indian girl in the entire city. How about my white girls?” At the lusty response, Glover commented, “Yep, no shortage of white girls.”

Freaks and Geeks
So Fly/Do You Like
Difference/Yes/I'm On It/I Be On That
Rolling in The Deep Remix
All The Shine
Letter Home
You See Me

We Ain't Them
One Up
They Don't Like Me
Black Faces
Lights Turned On

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