The most important Donald in the UK this weekend didn’t spend his Saturday playing golf in Scotland or having his likeness mocked by a giant inflatable orange effigy. No, this Donald was excitedly addressing thousands of his fans who’d gathered in a park in the capital for a very rare chance to see him do his thing.
“Hello, London!” Donald Glover says to the swathes of equally wide-eyed and thrilled people gathered in front of him. “Are you ready?” Honestly? We’re not even close to being prepared for what’s about to unfold.
Glover’s headline set at Lovebox 2018 under his stage name, Childish Gambino, has been a long time coming for the multi-talented star, particularly as he hasn’t performed on these shores since July 2015. Since then, he’s become an award-winning TV creator and star (if you’re not familiar with Atlanta, then get to know), won a Grammy for a song which opened an Oscar-winning movie (‘Redbone’ for Get Out), and landed a huge role in the upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King.
His absence from the stage is understandable, then. But his emphatic return to music back in May with ‘This Is America’ and its beyond-viral video may have just heralded the peak era of Childish Gambino, especially as Glover has effectively declared that he’ll be retiring the moniker after his next solo album.
His star quality as a musician is already well-assured, though: the fact that the second day of Lovebox is a complete sell-out goes some way to proving that, with the huge amount of people watching on as Gambino’s big hit finally arrives in the set means there’s barely any room to do your own shoot dance (more on that later).
Opening with ‘Me and Your Mama’ – from his pivot to soul and funk that was his December 2016 album ‘“Awaken, My Love!”’ – Glover’s face is a picture of sheer pleasure: this artist belongs on this kind of big stage (especially one which includes a catwalk for him to charge up and down throughout). And when he’s not darting from end of the stage to the other, he’s gyrating to the bass-y grooves of ‘Boogieman’ (with a bit of ‘Unnecessary’ from his 2013 mixtape ‘Royalty’ thrown in for good measure) provided by his full backing band, or commanding a festival-wide bounce to ‘I. The Worst Guys’ – he’s come a long way since his days as Troy Barnes.
Prior to his Lovebox set, Glover released the ‘Summer Pack’ EP, which, essentially, does what it says on the tin in presenting a pair of sun-kissed bangers which have already somehow infiltrated their way onto your summer playlist. Both ‘Feels Like Summer’ and ‘Summertime Magic’ – which are about as innocent as their respective titles suggest – are aired this evening, with the latter certainly making an instant impact with the Saturday night crowd.
Following the crystal pop hit that is ‘Sober’, Glover takes a moment to show his appreciation to his host city. “I lived in London for a whole year… that shit changed my life,” he says, before giving a quick birthday shout-out to his Solo: A Star Wars Story co-star and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
After referencing the turmoil of last summer (“I used to be like, ‘Oh man, London can’t be that bad…’ And then y’all came out the acid [attacks]!” he says at one point in a can-you-believe-this-shit? stand-up style, another nod to one of his many, many vocations), Glover then presses the case for togetherness: “We know what happens to people who fight for shit… we have to stick together, ‘cause we’re stronger together.” Nothing but respect for my President Donald – especially if he can go from motivational speaking to a scintillating performance of ‘Riot’, which descends into a combustible freak-out as Glover ends up lying down on the stage, panting and completely lost in the moment.
Shirt now tossed aside, we reach the business end of the evening: there’s the pop-rap immediacy of ‘3005’ which prompts a deluge on people clambering on their pal’s shoulders, ‘Sweatpants’ (his best rap performance of the evening) and then the spine-tingling ‘Redbone’, which showcases Glover’s tremendous vocal range. Seriously, he’s thinking of retiring Childish Gambino?
There’s only one song which can round off a triumphant evening like this, and doesn’t everyone just know it. Glover ushers on four backing dancers and a roving cameraman for the finale in an effort to re-create the dance routines that form just one element of ‘This Is America’’s incredible video. The serious political undertones of that clip aren’t particularly felt at Gunnersbury Park, with the track’s inescapable joyfulness instead infecting one and all: there’s dance-offs from the front to the back of the crowd, with Glover, as ever, the conductor.
“This is the best performance yet, thank you,” he says as we part – no, thank you, President Donald.
Childish Gambino played:
Me and Your Mama
I. The Worst Guys
Feels Like Summer
This Is America