Childish Gambino at Epic, 5/10/12

Childish Gambino

Epic Nightclub, Minneapolis
May 10, 2012

Donald Glover is clearly a trained performer, holding the titles comedian, actor and rapper under his belt. Last night he came as the latter, playing to a packed house that seemed to know his every word and hang on every movement the man made. Complete with full live band in tow, including more than one violinist, Childish Gambino was the only set through the whole night, which began promptly at 9:30 and was over before 11. Pushed back from March, this show was originally going to include Detroit rapper Danny Brown, but Gambino's foot injury delayed the show to last night and left him with no opener. The primarily white crowd crammed in early to see the rapper's set and seemed genuinely excited by his mere presence.

The show suffered from sound issues, as Gambino's microphone garbled much of his vocals and made it difficult to pick up his lines. Frankly, this was to his advantage, as most of his lyrics are poor at best and questionably tasteless at worst. The audience got to feel his vibe onstage and rap along with him at crucial moments, making for an entertaining show from a crowd perspective, but much of the performance left me cold. The hashtag raps and terrible one-liners got a lot more leeway than most people who built their name through rap alone would receive, and it really made me wonder how a vanity project like this could gain such impressive traction. 

Gambino's sophomore album Camp was infamously panned by Pitchfork in a review that pulled no punches and seemed spot on, but the drove of fans at Epic seemed to have been followers since his debut Culdesac. Not being terribly familiar with the work prior to the show, I didn't get a real sense of who the man was through his rhymes. I could tell he liked Asian girls and making allusions to popular television programs, but for someone with as unique an experience as he has, I didn't glean any of it from his rapping.

With a live band and video projections backing him up, Childish Gambino managed to put on a strong show that legitimately grabbed the audience, but it left me wanting more. I had heard Glover occasionally throws stand-up into his set, combining his dual stage roles into a single performance, which intrigued me to see how the sides would play off each other. Instead, last night was solely rap, which the man, while competent enough, proved was not his strong point. The audience certainly ate it up and must have connected on a level I couldn't (a celebrity presence still seems enough to engage people these days), but the show simply fell flat for me.

Critic's Bias: I was here to see Danny Brown, who sadly didn't come when the show was rescheduled.

Overheard in the crowd: "Yeah, he's on that show Community!" 

Random Notebook Dump: Bummed as I was about the lack of openers, the early wrap time meant I got to catch the bus this time, which is often not the case coming back from downtown

The crowd: Young and white.


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