The curious phrase “break a leg”, which is traditionally used by theatre performers to wish each other luck before going on stage, was taken almost too literally by Donald Glover back in September. Glover, who performs musically as Childish Gambino, hobbled off stage in Dallas after injuring his foot while dancing to his biggest hit ‘This Is America’, forcing him to reschedule a whole host of gigs, including his biggest-ever UK headline show at London’s The O2.
To adopt another well-worn saying: good things come to those who wait. Eight months on from his last triumphant visit to the capital at Lovebox Festival, a sold-out O2 rapturously welcomed Glover to London last night (March 24) for what will, in all likelihood, be the last time ever. While he’ll play one more gig at the venue tonight, Glover remains adamant that he’ll retire Childish Gambino in the very near future (“I think endings are good because they force things to get better,” he admitted in early 2018) – but a record deal with RCA should ensure that we’ll get at least one more Gambino project before he brings down the curtain for good.
A pair of radio-friendly ‘Summer Pack’ tracks aside, Glover has been largely reluctant to officially release much else since he created a global phenomenon with ‘This Is America’ back in May. New material has been previewed during his ‘This Is America tour’ and in the form of unfinished demos (which were sent to fans in September for the purpose of familiarisation so they could “participate and therefore fully enjoy the [live] experience”), but a full album has yet to drop. There’s reasons to be hopeful, though: arguably the biggest-ever Childish Gambino show will take place next month with a big headline billing at Coachella, which could serve as the perfect time to release his next project – and let’s not forget the rumoured ‘visual album’ Glover may have made with Rihanna, too. We may be nearing the end of the Gambino story, but it’s going to be quite the finale.
And so this rare chance to see the multi-talented star – who, in case you somehow needed reminding, will soon be known globally as the lead in Disney’s forthcoming remake of The Lion King – on stage feels like it’s come at a perfect time to find out what CG might have up his sleeve. Rising up from beneath the catwalk that he prowls throughout the night, a topless Glover tears into the sinister ‘Algorhythm’ as a pulsating set of laser beams rebound in a thousand different directions around the arena. It’s an arresting, if slightly uncertain, opening: people quite rightly want to lose their shit, but their collective unfamiliarity with this relatively new song stops them short in their tracks. But then: he speaks.
“What’s up, London?” Glover says in greeting, which prompts a roar louder than Mufasa’s from the expectant crowd. “This is the very last Childish Gambino tour there is… if you’re here for me, I’m here for you… I love you forever.” The feeling is undoubtedly mutual, and, with pleasantries exchanged, he then implores his fans to put their phones down (which, remarkably, people do abide by for about five minutes) and soak up the raw experience of the Childish Gambino live show.
Gambino’s penchant for pop-rap goes down a storm as ‘I. The Worst Guys’ rings out (and is later concluded with a stunning guitar solo from a member of his excellent backing band, who are positioned down in The O2’s makeshift orchestra pit for the night) before a chaotic ‘II. Worldstar’ sees him instructing those on the front row to tilt their phones horizontally (as we said, the no-phone rule quickly goes out of the window) to capture his best side. It’s a knowing and meta moment which is then trumped by his walking off stage: the big screens on either side then cut to live footage of Glover and his security team walking through the labyrinthine corridors and staircases of The O2 to… what’s this? He’s walking through the main concourse, and then coming down the stairs to our seating block! Yes, in an effort to get closer to his people, Glover decides to deliver a soft rendition of ‘Stand Tall’ in the middle of the seated section, as starry-eyed punters gurn, gasp and project their phones at him. This is Donald Glover’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
Nah if that was Childish Gambino last ever tour I am buzzing I got to see and be their for that!! Unreal show pic.twitter.com/tpTjH0DPOH
— Sam Hill (@samhill37) March 24, 2019
Once returning to the stage, cuts from ‘”Awaken, My Love!”‘, Glover’s successful 2016 foray into soul and funk revival, dominate the setlist, with ‘Boogieman’, ‘Terrified’ (which is concluded with unsettling projections of Glover and a vocalist performing the track while trapped in water containers) and ‘Riot’ all standing out as examples of Gambino’s incredibly broad musical scope. Ever the all-rounder, Glover then seeks to connect with his crowd further by regaling us with memories of living in London while he was filming Solo: A Star Wars Story. Revealing that he and his partner visited Grenfell Tower to pay tribute in the aftermath of the 2017 tragedy, Glover then adeptly displays his adopted Britishness by momentarily spoiling everyone’s good time with a mention of Brexit. “I know, I shouldn’t even bring it up,” he says in eye-rolling, stand-up style when the mere mention of the political omnishambles is greeted by a cacophony of boos. “It’s like someone coming to America and being like, ‘Y’all know who Trump is?’ And we’re like: ‘Yeah, I fucking know.’
“It’s not even about us versus them, we are together as a globe and we are becoming more together,” he adds. “We aren’t separate, we’re together: remember that shit!”
Swapping one strong political statement for another, ‘This Is America’ later stages its now-customary mass dance-off and sets up an arena-wide moment of exhilarating catharsis as the man at the centre of it all gyrates his way across the stage (in a way which avoids injury, thankfully) and joyously repeats the “I’m so pretty” line three times. Before we get any time at all to catch our breath, we’re then awarded with a stunning four-song encore – we’re talking the solid-gold likes of ‘Sober’, ‘3005’, ‘IV. Sweatpants’ and the ever-slaying ‘Redbone’ – before it’s left to Glover, who takes one final lap of the arena, to deliver one final sermon: “This is church: I do not put on a concert. This is church!” Praise be indeed to Childish Gambino.
Childish Gambino played:
I. The Worst Guys
Late Night in Kauai
Boogieman (w/ parts of Me and Your Mama and Unnecessary)
Have Some Love
Feels Like Summer
This Is America
IV. Sweatpants (w/ “Bonfire” intro)