London O2 Arena
Following a theatrical light show intro, Donald Glover darts on to a runway stood in front of one pillar of sharp, laser light. His beard is grown out with flecks of grey, he’s topless with two thin gold chains and wearing the same tight-fitting sharkskin wool trousers from the This is America video. The band are placed below the stage on either side, not unlike a traditional orchestra pit. The setup directs the focus solely on Childish Gambino, whose own focus is on delivering a complete experience. “Put your phones away,” he tells the crowd, “This is not a show, this is church.”
Assuming the role of preacher, he launches into an expertly produced live show which showcases his 360-degree approach to entertainment. The venue utilises a muted live stream of the backstage area to masterful effect – candid footage of the band stretching and warming up in the dressing room corridor is shown at the beginning of the set, and later again throughout the show. A live jazz interlude soundtracks a video of Glover leaving the stage, walking through the backstage area and into the main venue foyer – eventually entering a block of audience seats to perform a pared-down version of Stand Tall, surrounded by security guards and iPhones.
After This is America, the stream shows him downing a bottle of water and drying his face with a towel before gesturing that the crowd weren’t loud enough. After a few of these signals, the lights drop, the video stops and Glover re-appears for an encore. These were simple but original tricks, executed with style.
As an on-stage presence Glover is every bit as athletic and expressive as he is in that super-viral video. He throws his body into the music and stares at fans with the same pop-eyed intensity that he affords to the lens. During Boogieman, a gospel-infused funk anthem from 2016’s Awaken, My Love!, he hurtles across the stage like a child trying to outrun the mythical creature, completely invested in the theatre of it all.
While his songs work significantly better live, the disparate nature of his back catalogue occasionally disrupts the cohesiveness of the show. Iffy rap pastiches like II. Worldstar and flimsy R&B joints like Feels Like Summer run the risk of reducing the show’s focused momentum but Glover is an agile enough performer to stitch them all together.
At the start of the show, he tells the audience that they are in attendance of the “last ever Childish Gambino tour.” When fans boo, Glover smirks and says, “Booing? Really?” Given the berating he got when he first emerged, rapping over Grizzly Bear beats and armed with guest verses from Tina Fey, perhaps it’s unsurprising that Glover might still be adjusting to a world in which people like Childish Gambino. It’s always felt more like an art project than a genuine musical pursuit, an impressive section of an already eye-watering resumé which will eventually be wrapped. In the past, Glover’s polymathic approach has felt opportunistic and self-indulgent, but when delivered live as a total, complete vision with each element working as part of a whole, the show stands tall as an artistic achievement.