If Donald Glover is a man of his word then tonight – here in the cavernous o2 – we are witnessing the last show Childish Gambino will ever play in London. If this is indeed the end of the Gambino journey, it’s been an enthralling one.
From the start of his career, with his internet Wu-Tang Clan name generated moniker and maligned debut album, through to the frenzied cultural, political juggernaut of ‘This Is America’, it’s been quite the trip.
And tonight is a fitting and thrilling farewell; an ecstatic night played out exactly on his terms. As the show starts he sets out two rules the crowd must follow. “Rule 1, you bought a ticket to the last Gambino show and that means I love you forever and I want you to have a great time. Rule 2, this is an experience. I want you to put your phones down. I want you to really feel this shit. Tonight is about church and we’re here to have an experience together.”
The experience is revelatory. It’s a show that pulses and thunders with energy – though it opens with stillness, Glover stood motionless, head bowed, for three minutes while ‘Atavista’ plays.
We’re jolted out of this as the show slams into ‘Algorythm’ through ‘Summertime Magic’ and into ‘I. The Worst Guys’ ending with a wig out guitar solo from the band. Polymath is overused term, usually used for artists who can do many things averagely (you can kind of sing and design caps??), but Glover, by way of a Star Wars blockbuster and creating the astonishing Atlanta, has proven he stands alone. And this show is a multimedia joyride that mashes his disparate sounds together – the assorted song styles that have, in a way, characterised his music lurch around exhilaratingly, all held together by his performance.
The focus is completely on Glover throughout: topless, wearing white linen trousers and a beard dyed blond, he is the star of the show (his band positioned away from sight, down in The O2’s makeshift orchestra pit for the night). His body jerks and twitches around the stage. He says more with one wild look in his eyes than most performers do with their entire show.
“But tonight this feels less political theorising and more a frenzied and pure scream into the void about everything that’s happening with American politics and the lives of black people in the US. “
After ‘II Worldstar’ he walks off stage: the big screens on either side cutting to live footage of Glover drinking water, a jazz interlude soundtracking him and his security team as they walk through the staircases of the building before he joins the crowd in the stands to perform ‘Stand Tall’.
The night is filled with these knowing and meta moments (we’ve all seen Atlanta, we all know he can do this). And at its centre is the towering ‘This Is America’, a song which anchors what we see tonight and stands alone in his work. It seems like an art piece. Live it heaves and pounds while Glover jerks and contorts his body around the stage, his eyes alive and wild. But tonight this feels less political theorising and more a frenzied and pure scream into the void about everything that’s happening with American politics and the lives of black people in the US.
It’s a visceral feeling that engulfs everyone here. He can sense the energy in the room. “We did London last night too. They were about an 8. You guys are on a 9 already you gotta go to 20. By the end of this I want people exploding and shit,” he tells his congregation. He even has time to deliver a sermon. “I know times are tough. People are trying to make us feel like we’re separated but we’re not. I’m reading my daughter a book about the fact we’re all one and it’s true.”
Older hits ‘Sober’ and ‘V 3005’ lead us into a fervent encore as he screams “I’m in church” before jumping into the crowd to finish ‘Redbone’, the full-blown funk slow jam that touches on love, reconciliation and, appropriately, endings.
“I think endings are good because they force things to get better,” Glover has said about the decision to say goodbye to the Gambino name, seemingly deciding it’s better to burn out than to fade away. He may well be right. It will be hard for him to better this.
Photo credit: Philipp Raheem