Childish Gambino House of Blues March 8, 2014
We used to adore cops and cowboys; now we love scientists and engineers. We used to want to be John Wayne, but now we'd prefer to be Mark Zuckerberg. It was only so long before our computerized generation of tech-savvy youngsters would start to look up to people similar to themselves. Slipping away are the days of the over-glorification of the rough and tumbling, five o'clock-shadowed, gun-toting tough guy image. We now have new heroes in our lives, and they are far from what has been the norm in popular culture over the course of history.
In all aspects of life, the hipster-ization and nerd-ification of America has a firm grasp on popular culture, and while it's quite noticeable in television and film, the biggest impact has been on the world of music. And throughout the different genres, the subject matter changing with the times has been clearest in hip-hop.
The youth of today doesn't want to hear about sipping on some sizzurp or pulling out their 9's -- they'd much rather hear about html coding or shoe design. Gangsta rap has all but seen its last days, as newer and younger rappers like Childish Gambino -- who performed before a sold-out House of Blues Saturday night -- have stepped back from the grime and grit and started to talk about real-life happenings surrounding youth culture.
Now, because of that and the popularization of television shows and movies like The Big Bang Theory and The Social Network, it's hip to be both intelligent and cool. With rappers like Kanye, Outkast, Pharrell and Common bringing hipster fashion to their everyday life, it's inspired a whole new realm of artists that have given up that hardcore tag and would rather be personified as talented, fashionable and smart. Thick-rimmed glasses and polo's have overtaken baggy jeans and bandannas. Gats, whips and pagers have become MacBook's, Prius' and iPhones.
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Childish Gambino is at the forefront of this new wave of rappers with a conscience. Known at birth as Donald Glover, he's as talented as they come, which he's already proved in his young career with cleverly chosen acting spots on the hit TV shows Community and Girls. Now, though, with his focus removed from acting, his music career is moving forward even quicker than his time as a thespian.
Saturday night proved that -- it was well sold out. And it wasn't your typical hip-hop audience. House of Blues' will-call wizardess said it was "kind of a weird crowd," and she was right. I definitely felt old walking into the venue, a feeling that never subsided. Even the bars were next to empty because most of the crowd wasn't legally allowed to belly up.
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But what the crowd lacked in age, they more than made up for in energy. From start to finish, they went bananas. The barrier that us photographers cherish so much, felt like it was about to collapse with the pure force of kids pushing on kids pushing on kids. I'm not sure what people in the front row really get out of that, but being smashed up against a metal railing for nearly two hours doesn't sound fun to me.
However, even being a little uncomfortable couldn't stop the crowd from reacting to Childish Gambino's in-your-face style of rapping. He's always seemed like such a chill, funny guy every time I've seen him on TV, so when he came out as aggressive as he did I was a little thrown back. But any preconceptions I had were immediately erased by just how easily he commanded the stage.
Sporting some flowery short-shorts and an oversized black wool sweater, Glover danced and rapped his way through an energetic set of originals. But for all his mike skills, the stage show was even more impressive. Couches on the stage and a living-room projection gave the first part of the set a real homey feeling, while a campfire projection made us feel like we were sharing songs with the band underneath the stars. At one point, a screen overtook the whole front of the stage for a few songs projecting different things including an incredibly realistic rainfall.
While Gambino didn't even need all the bells and whistles, and could have just came out with a microphone and a DJ, he paid attention to the details and brought literally everything he could. His band was extremely talented and entirely too much fun to watch, his stage set-up definitely cost a pretty penny, and the lighting was top-notch. And the songs were there too. Take away all the extras, and Glover still has great vocal chops.
He's right for stepping away from acting to focus on music, because while he can crack a joke and turn a smile, he can also blow your mind with hits like "Heartbeat," "Freeks and Geeks" and "Lights Turned On." If I had as many people screaming lyric for lyric back at me from night to night, I would probably hang up a budding career in acting too. I'm sure, like any other rapper, his days as an out-of-work actor will probably be limited, but I can't wait for what comes from him in the meantime.
If Saturday proved anything, it was something that I already knew walking in: whatever Donald Glover touches turns to gold, and Childish Gambino is his latest soirée into alchemy. I envision a long career ahead of this one.
Personal Bias I never really watched a lot of Community, but I dug him in that show. I never really listened to a lot of Childish Gambino, but I dug him Saturday.
The Crowd: Youthful, energetic, hyped-up.
Overheard In the Crowd: Some young girl in the front row asking me to pass Glover her homemade mug. I politely declined as I had some photos to take, but it eventually made its way into his hands. He even drank his water from it. That girl was pretty excited.
Random Notebook Dump: Are they shouting Beano? What an unfortunate nickname.
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