Childish Gambino is Saying Goodbye at the Height of His Powers

Simple staging kept Childish Gambino in the spotlight all night long.
Simple staging kept Childish Gambino in the spotlight all night long. Photo by Cory Garcia
Childish Gambino, Rae Sremmurd
Toyota Center
September 22, 2K18

A lot of acts have jumped on the “please put down your cellphones and enjoy the show” train, although most don’t give a compelling reason why you should. How we experience life has changed, and most of the time this request seems more like a plea for a different past than a genuine interest in making sure the crowd is getting the most out of a show. But when Childish Gambino stands at the front of the stage and explains to the crowd that this is his final tour and that he’s trying to give them an experience instead of a concert, it feels real. Then the show plays out and you realize that he wasn’t joking and he is, in his own way, trying to take people to church.

It’s an impressive experience, one that proves that in addition to being a good singer, a good rapper, an excellent writer, and a damn fine actor, he also understand crowd psychology better than most touring performers out there. It’s a show that is so effortlessly confident in earning the desired crowd reactions that there’s never even a hint from Gambino that this isn’t going to play out exactly how he envisions it.

So yes, it did feel like the energy in the room exploded as soon as “This Is America” started at the end of the main set, and in 99 percent of shows that eruption of mania would have been the climax of the show, an emotional high leaving the crowd excited but drained for the rest of the show. But if anything the song seemed to give the crowd a second wind that carried through the encore, setting them to be louder than the music being played on stage as they screamed out their favorite parts of “Sober,” “3005,” and “IV. Sweatpants.”

And watching all those people completely locked in with what was going on stage, utterly in the palm of his hand, it’s wild that this is supposed to be an end of an era for him. What should maybe feel like a victory lap instead feels like an artist who is at the peak of his game with many, many more years left in the tank. I don’t doubt that Donald Glover will take to the stage again, but if this is where he’s leaving Childish Gambino, in a way I think we all might be lesser for it.

So, How Was The Opener: Rae Sremmurd’s understanding of melody is undeniable, and combined with their relentless energy — at times they were maybe a little too hype given the speed of beats they rap over — they made for a great opening set. Of course, the crowd went gonzo for “Black Beatles,” but they were receptive to pretty much everything, especially during the moments where the duo went out into the crowd to rap closer to the fans. Very much a rock-solid performance.

Personal Bias: I respect what Gambino did with "Awaken, My Love!" even if it isn’t really my thing; I’m more into his poppier, more mainstream stuff, although the new song he’s playing (rumored to be titled “Spirits”) that has some Kavinsky influence made my heart flutter.

The Crowd: The line to buy merch was huge. Dude is making a killing on this tour.

Overheard In The Crowd:

M: “We’ve got to go. We’ve got a four-hour drive home.”
W: “So?”
M: “...that’s the point.”

Random Notebook Dump: I’ve always kind of hated the idea of encores, but I liked the twist that Gambino went with on this tour. After a few seconds in the dark, the screens lit up to show him backstage, getting ready to come back on. He cupped his hand to his ear and the crowd roared, and this happened a few more times before he retook the stage. I liked this a lot because it made the subtext actual text, which is the kind of thing a production obsessed dork like me goes over the moon for.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia