Words by Blaire Monroe, photos by Daniel Wooden
It was only five minutes before the 8:30 pm starting time when I squeezed my way up to the second floor of the Electric Factory. The first floor was too filled to even attempt to conquer. The Philadelphia stop of the Deep Web Tour was completely sold out. As I looked for some place, any place, to slither into so that I could get a glimpse of the stage, a chant broke out amongst the antsy crowd: “WOOOORLDSTAAAAR, WOOOORLDSTAAAAR, WOOOORLDSTAAAAR”. There was almost a pleading tone in their unified voice; where was the man of the hour?
I finally found a tiny opening between two girls who were seemingly irritated, but nonetheless, they made some room. Below us, a handful of people, who I correctly assumed were friends of the performer, started filing on stage and sat down in what appeared to be a simulated party scene.(photo by Blaire Monroe)
“Do you want to come up here?” One of them yelled.
Taken aback, I looked around, “Uh, me?”
My confusion turned to bliss with a fraction of panic as they all nodded in unison, “Yeah, you!”
Two minutes later I was escorted on to the stage. As we hastily walked behind a row of instruments, my guide explained that I would be part of a quick party scene, and that afterwards I could watch the rest of the show from behind the stage.
Are you fucking kidding me? I thought. Best Friday ever.
Moments after I found my seat on set, the lights dimmed, the crowd lost their shit and out marched writer/actor/comedian/singer/producer/credited emcee, Donald Glover – stage name, Childish Gambino.
With a quick glance and a smile to the crowd, Gambino instantaneously sat down at the piano to open-up the show with the instrumental interlude “Playing Around Before The Party”.
“This is about to get crazy, just keep your eye on the screens”, grinned a producer friend of Gambino’s.
He was right. Behind me was a wall-sized screen, which started filling up with imagery varying throughout the show from the backdrop of a mansion, to trippy lasers to a raunchy, silhouetted threesome featuring Gambino as the main event.
As he cut loose on stage he performed winners “I. Crawl”, “II. Worldstar”, “Dial Up” and “I. The Worst Guys” from his astonishingly classic album Because The Internet. It was hard not to be fixated on him. His energy was infectious, and his passion for performing was more than evident. He had a very genuine connection with his band; every now and then I would see him glance back at each one of them and give them a playful smile.
Moments later as Gambino was winding down the popular head bopper, “I. The Party”, the stage lights shined down on the other “party goers” and myself.
“I invited all these people to my motherfucking house”, Gambino points to us, “get the fuck out of my house!”
We all slink off stage and get politely ushered to the backroom for the next few songs. It’s in that room that I meet a friend of Gambino’s who flew in from the west coast just to see her longtime friend perform. She’s also a performer, a talented poet and a writer. She tells me that she’s known Gambino since their freshman year at NYU and as she talks about what a wonderful dude he is and how incredible it’s been to see him flourish, she radiates pride and admiration.
Three songs later we’re brought back on stage to watch from a cozy couch set up behind the band. I’m bummed to have missed my favorite boastful banger from the album, “IV. Sweatpants”, along with a few other numbers, but I’m obviously not complaining. I still got to catch “ III. Telegraph Ave.”, “I. Pink Toes” “V. 3005” and “II. Earth: The Oldest Computer”. Gambino performed his entire album, in addition to a few familiar throwbacks.
As he winds down the show with a candid freestyle and the final crowd pleasing compilation of “Bonfire/Freaks and Geeks/Firefly/Yaphet Kotto/Heartbeat”, Gambino croons to the floor seats and then he moves to the left side of the stage to a group of people who were in the top row and regrettably stuck standing behind a giant pillar. As I look up at them they’re grinning uncontrollably, mouthing the lyrics back to Gambino and reaching out as far as they can just to be a little bit closer to him. All corniness aside, the performance is magical – honestly.
Many of us have seen Donald Glover prosper on screen in the NBC comedy Community, or as Hannah’s Republican boyfriend in season 2 of Girls, or as an indisputably hilarious stand-up comedian but to see him perform as Childish Gambino and to witness him immerse himself in his music live on-stage, you can tell, that’s without a doubt where he truly shines. It’s just something you’ve got to see for yourself, and I was lucky enough to witness it up close.
Grab tickets to see Childish Gambino on the last couple of stops on the Deep Web tour, here.