A few weeks ago I attended the Childish Gambino concert at the Riviera Theatre with my friend Josh and his little brother Jordan. Now, before I get into the shenanigans of the night, I have to say that Josh and I have completely ruined any future concerts for Jordan. I go to a ton of concerts and there are a few stinkers here and there, but they are mostly good and entertaining. Jordan has been to a grand total of two concerts (he’s 15) and they have been some astounding. The first was Gorillaz at the UIC Pavilion during what would end up being their last tour. While this concert was much smaller in scale that the Gorillaz, the energy during Childish Gambino’s set and the insanity during Danny Brown’s (his opener) was unparalleled.
OPENER: Danny Brown came out to… well, a less then receptive crowd. I really don’t think many people came to see him and if they did, they were overwhelmed by the near riotous hate by the majority of the crowd. I listened to some of his music before the show and it wasn’t bad. His raps were good, with great little turns of phrases here and there. His flow was decent and his beats were fantastic, but overall there was something missing. Not unimpressive, just something was missing. At the show his presence elicited a pretty big pop, which I was a bit surprised by. When he started rapping, many just didn’t feel it. It might have been the way the concert was mixed, but Brown sounded overly high pitched which did not go well with his flow.
In addition to this, he was not a good hype man. Chicago is renown for having very timid crowds, so just saying “what up Chicago!” between every single song is not gonna cut it (seriously, mix it up). About a quarter of the way through the set, I could see a lot of people giving Brown the finger. The numbers steadily increased until one audience member (who I will refer to as Dudebro now) began splashing water and throwing ice on stage. Brown mentioned it and started tossing the ice directly at Dudebro while rapping, which got some of the crowd back on his side. At the end of this song, the Dudebro chucked an unopened water bottle at Brown when he turned his back. Brown hurled the water bottle at Dudebro and began a really angry and powerful rap. Brown jumped off the stage and made his way through the crowd, rapping right into Dudebro’s face. One of Brown’s entourage followed into the audience and security was ready to jump in if anything happened. It was an insane moment that got the crowd on Brown’s side and he left on that high note. That being said, he really wasn’t at his best that night. (I will say that I was distracted by watching the backstage where a very sexy woman, who was not a part of the show, danced in a very revealing mini dress)
HEADLINER: Childish Gambino walked to stage and was met with an eruption of sound from the audience. His “what up, Chicago” (he only said it once) was filled with more vigor, more pizazz, a je ne sais quois missing from Brown that night. The set opened up with “Outside”, which got the crowd jumping right off the bat.There were no audio hiccups, no loss of drive. Gambino went from walking meekly on stage to dominating it with his explosive voice and constant movements, never missing a beat. It was amazing. The crowd instantly raised their hands in the air and moved with him, only adding to the already massive energy all around. Most of the crowd knew all the lyrics and Gambino knew it. In both “Outside” and the next song “Firefly”, the audience showed that they loved Childish, matching the loudspeakers as they sung most of the lyrics. The big screen behind the band (that’s right, Childish Gambino tours with a full band) displayed a great landscape video, moving allowing with “Firefly” perfectly. It was so great seeing little fireflies scatter across the screen as the audience sang along “and I was like okayy… firefly!”. The crowd knew the lyrics so well that when introducing the next song, (“If you’re a true Gambino fan,you’ll know the words to this shit… if you don’t, then the words will be on the screen in the back.”) Childish was prepared for what might have been the biggest pop of the night.
Not two notes in and everyone knew it was “Freaks and Geeks”. The screen goes from black to a bright yellow with orange fading away at the corners. It looks like the start up of an old film projector. The words, bold capitalized letters colored a dark red with glowing edges, blast on to the screen chasing Childish’s rapping. “MASTERMIND/PASS THE TIME/MASS APPEAL/ORANGE RIND”. “Freaks and Geeks” is Gambino at his most hyper literate and referential. It’s arguably his best song and it’s presentation in the show was utter madness. Everybody at the Riviera was moving. A similar effect was used later in the set in “You See Me”, with the words scrolling in different direction on and off the screen, at one point moving so fast to match his flow that they blurred on screen. On top of the huge applause that moment garnered,” You See Me” and every single song that night sounded perfect live. The lyrics in “Heartbeat” were delivered organically and “Bonfire” was even angrier than on the album. That definitely needs to be said.There are some bands that sound exactly like their albums, and while that is a good experience, nothing beats a band that improves on their sound when playing live. The fact that Gambino uses a full band (ala The Roots) to reproduce his beats instead of relying on a computer gives his songs a bigger impact.
While I think “Freaks and Geeks” was the best song of the night, with it’s surprise of the catapulting lyrics and massive audience participation, my favorite moment came from the performance of Jamie-xx’s remix which featured Childish Gambino rapping over Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” while the screen read “JOHN LEGEND”S VOICE (KEEP CLAPPING)”. And clap we fucking did. I was stunned by having the recording of the vocals of the song play and letting the crowd tackle the clapping beat of the remix. I was going nuts over the very idea. I couldn’t help but get giddy over the inventiveness of it. Such a great moment in an already amazing concert.
Check out Danny Brown at his twitter and Childish Gambino at his website. I was going to post some video songs from the set, but I don’t exactly feel comfortable with it (plus you can find it on youtube on your own). Instead I will put up the video to “Bonfire” and you can watch “Freaks and Geeks” in my music video post.
Quick note: All photos were taken by Jordan, the luckiest little bastard alive.