Never before have I seen so much passion and energy put into an utterly captivating and incredible performance. From Camp to This Is America, this is an artist that continues to improve and break boundaries.
It’s been three years since Donald Glover performed in the UK under the persona of Childish Gambino since then we’ve witnessed an evolution in his music which has been unparalleled, especially when compared to other artists of his generation. Unafraid to move away from conventional norms he could have easily continued on his route as a talented and funny rapper/lyricist in the vein of Chance The Rapper and Kanye West, however, he’s flipped his trajectory completely on its head. Growing up with a heavy funk influence, he decided on his third record ‘Awaken My Love’ to embrace this culture and create a groundbreaking R&B record which transcended genres, despite the drastic shift this was still taken to many of his fans hearts, especially lead single ‘Redbone’.
This past year, Gambino once again surprised everyone, breaking across into the mainstream in the most visceral and groundbreaking way possible. This was down to the phenomenal ‘This Is America’ a song, and most importantly video with a huge cultural impact. It broke barriers and started positive yet political conversations that we haven't seen from a modern artist in decades. This most creative phase of his career may also be his final, these past six months Gambino has openly spoken about his intentions to retire the moniker after his upcoming final fourth record. As well as being a closure to his incredible transition, this period has also seen Gambino at his most reclusive, with tonight being his first U.K performance to feature any tracks he's created since 2015. Despite his profile now being at its highest he still only has two proper full shows scheduled in Europe this year (London and Paris) both of which, sold out in seconds.
So to say Lovebox has grabbed itself one hell of an exclusive headliner would be an understatement. This, of course, meant there was a heavy sense of anticipation in the air throughout the day. Despite a gruelling hot day, one which seemed to test the endurance of even Gambino's most loyal fans, the crowd was still incredibly dense for his arrival. Emerging promptly to the swirls of ‘Me And Your Mama’, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated just what was in store for them over the course of the next hour.
Gambino blends effortlessly through his discography, whether it be the intense funk of ‘Boogieman’ which see’s an almost rabid Gambino pouncing up and down the stage with his face contorting, almost painfully. This would be a theme throughout the night as wild screams fight to escape his throat, almost as if pure emotion is dictating his performance. Then as the track finishes it’s a complete transformation, briskly switching his focus to his early rap hits such as ‘The Worst Guys’ and 'Worldstar', constantly interacting with the crowd throughout as if he’s experiencing the hype and fever with them.
The main focus of the evening seems to be his softer material. this is briefly touched upon early with ‘Terrified’, which is pure perfection live. From the delicate keystrokes to the measured way Gambino lightly squeals before howling out a piercing high note. There’s an audible gasp from the festival when he bursts into ‘Sober’, an elated crowd sing every word alongside Gambino’s dulcet tones. The tracks outro switches up considerably as it transforms into a techno-inspired jam. This instrumental break is recreated bombastically on stage by a full live band. As the drums pound away and the percussion clashes through the night sky like thunder, Gambino reacts accordingly, yelping and bouncing around as if possessed, faithfully recreating his own music videos.
As well as the classics the crowd were also treated to some new material. Freshly released this week his Summer Pack embraces the bright and never-ending sunshine we’ve experienced over in the UK these past couple weeks. both ‘Summertime Magic’ and ‘Feels Like Summer’ embrace Gambino’s seductive tones. A pair of bright R&B slow jams that gently caress your ears. If there were any doubts Gambino is the modern incarnation of Prince then they surely disappeared during the shrieks of thousands of female fans as he finally, fully removed his shirt, never losing eye contact or dropping from a high note. A rare, mysterious sex appeal on stage not seen since The Purple One himself.
The finale was breathless, Gambino now fully fired up, returned to his rap roots with an impassioned performance of ‘V. 3005’. It's quite a sight seeing groups of men going manic as they feverously try and repeat each verse word for word. By now, Gambino has every single crowd member in the palms of his hands. He repeatedly pumps his fists in the air, as each blow lands, every person joins them, launching themselves skywards. ‘IV. Sweatpants’ only increases the intensity, it’s monstrous rhythm see’s Gambino turn almost feral with his eyes searing into your soul. During the slower more melodic numbers, we see Gambino's eyes shut, clearly fully immersed in the music. Whereas now during the higher paced, rhythm centred tracks, his eyes are frightfully wide, inviting you into his world with a crazed gaze.
As the night begins to draw to a close the sound of a soft thudding fills the air, this is swiftly filled by that signature bass line. it’s rare for a hip-hop artist to have an instrumental section as a signature motif but if you haven't guessed what I'm hinting at, its the moment that first bass note from ‘Redbone’ slaps and crashes into the crowd. In an instant they’re copying it, this is mixed in with the sounds of "stay woke!” being shouted from various pockets of the park.
When you place the ‘Awaken My Love’ assortment of songs alongside Gambino's earlier material you’d easily believe it was a completely different artist, despite this different approach, on the live stage he still manages to effortlessly flow between intense rapping and soulful crooning. This means each track just feels like a natural progression from the other. This fluid song transition and persistent high quality are achieved by consistent crowd engagement, high energy levels and an incredible live band, however, nothing sums up the juxtaposition of his styles and the organic evolution his music has taken better than our final song of the evening.
From the joyous African chants to the gospel choirs singing “black man, get your money”… all the way to how Gambino delivers each verse with a deadpan level of seriousness, quite unlike what we've ever seen before. It all results in something that no other song even comes close to, a song which both live and on record is able to celebrate black culture, whilst crucifying modern America so significantly and in such a brief time span. When performed live, it surprisingly loses none of the power given to it by the video, Gambino makes sure to painstakingly recreate segments, going as far to bring on a troupe of young dancers onstage for the one single track.
The most powerful tool in his disposal though is something I’ve slightly touched on previously and that's the searing look he can summon from his eyes, a piercing almost manic glare. You don’t just hear the crumbling of America in his speeches (at one point he openly praised the Trump balloon and encouraged a mostly young audience to stay strong and together) but you can actually see the despair of his entire nation in his pupils.
It would be an awful shame for Gambino to retire after his next record, especially as he’s now reached a new peak in his career, not just in his recorded music, but as proven tonight also his live performances. I believe we’ve seen a true artist evolve through the years, someone not afraid to make the music they believe in and intent on spreading their message of peace, no matter how little revenue it may make. But then with Donald Glover, who does know? When it comes to his music he keeps his cards close to his chest, the Childish Gambino persona shrouded in mystery with both his songs and albums dropping at random, a truly unpredictable artiste.
I’ve made fleeting comparisons throughout the article between the artistry of Childish Gambino and that of his clear influence Prince, who some might remember also ‘retired’ in 1999. So with that note, let us keep our fingers crossed that this wasn't one of the last UK performances from Gambino, but yet just another chapter in a glowing and incredible career. Because tonight was a truly life-changing experience that I can only hope myself and more people get to see again.
1. Me and Your Mama
2. Boogieman (w/ part of Unnecessary)
3. I. The Worst Guys
4. II. Worldstar
5. Feels Like Summer
10. Summertime Magic
11. V. 3005
12. IV. Sweatpants
14. This Is America