Childish Gambino – Hammerstein Ballroom – March 29, 2014
Although he’s performed in big New York City venues before (SummerStage, Terminal 5), Donald Glover faced a new type of challenge at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Saturday night for his rap act, Childish Gambino. Luckily for him, he’s no longer splitting time between his music and acting careers (his final episode on NBC’s Community aired early in the current season), allowing Glover to dive headlong into his musical creation. Gone are the days when he was recording short verses into a laptop over poor-quality samples and spreading them around to fans himself. Childish Gambino now has a life of his own, and it’s evident in the work that went into his most recent album, Because the Internet, which was released alongside a short film, a screenplay, and now a carefully and fairly elaborately produced live show with the Deep Web tour.
For most of the first half the show, a massive living-room scene was projected onto a white sheet at the back of the stage, while some fans sat on two couches on the stage riser beneath two massive chandeliers. Gambino relentlessly charged through much of Because the Internet, getting the biggest reactions on “3005” and “Worldstar.” Every few songs the stage went dark and a shifting geometric shape spun onscreen while a sort-of narration loosely linked together parts of the set, somewhat reminiscent of similar breaks in the action during Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. In fact, a lot Gambino’s show (and music) easily compares to West’s work, although Glover’s show only clocked in at about half the length of Kanye’s three-hour arena epics. But the biggest similarity might be that there’s always something more going on in between the lines, some deeper meaning that Gambino, like West, always wants to communicate to his fans.
As Glover repeatedly shouted the “Send them pics to my phone/ GPOY” conclusion of “Earth: The Oldest Computer,” one of the last tracks on Because, the previously static living-room scene onscreen crumbled into a bluish wormhole before reading “RESET.” After a beat, the stage essentially rebooted into a campfire scene, which was met by wild roars from the crowd as everyone in the room knew the rest of the night would feature songs from Gambino’s less elaborate but just as powerful debut, Camp. Even as now-old tracks like “Fire Fly” and “Bonfire” rattled the room, it was hard to not think that Camp was some sort of prologue to Gambino’s young career, and that Because the Internet— accompanied by the Deep Web tour—is really just the beginning. —Sean O’Kane
Photos courtesy of Mina K