“This is not the Deep Web Tour,” announces Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, after opening his show at Manchester’s Gorilla with recent fan favourites ‘Crawl’ and ‘The Worst Guys’. “We’ll do that when I’m back over soon, for now this is just a collection of songs.”
Set against the woozy purple and blue hues of this intimate gig space, there is a sense of exclusivity about the show. The relatively small capacity venue and surprisingly low ticket price see us pressed against the wall, clouds bellowing over us from the smoke machine at regular intervals. Nonetheless there is a sense of privilege to have made it inside, unlike the gaggle of scrawny skate-clothed teenagers loitering outside – Gambino posters in hand – battling the touts for access.
Demonstrating an impressive vocal range from the get go, the show highlights how much singing actually went into his latest record, ‘Because The Internet’ (review), and set against a small live band set-up, at times it feels as though we could have accidentally wandered into a Toro Y Moi show.
The vibe is altered now and again – when ‘Camp’ lead single ‘Bonfire’ drops, limbs fly – but the calm is always brought back around by Glover who, swamped in an oversized brown sweater, takes a sip of water from a white porcelain mug before jumping straight back in with ‘BTI’’s equivalent, ‘World Star’.
Turning, puppy eyed, to the audience, he checks in with a generic enquiry – “Is everyone having a old time?” – before smoothing things out with one of ‘BTI’’s most surprising moments, ‘Oakland’, again demonstrating a vocal ability that is downplayed on record. ‘Pink Toes’ – a song about rainbows, sunshine and, er, C-3PO – finishes with some frat-boy daps and heads into his most recent single ‘3005’.
Snapchat-ready phones are thrust into the sky as Donald puts an end to the calm, emptying the contents of his mug over attendees and Carlton-dancing as if he’s just received some amazing news in the privacy of his own bedroom.
Leaving the stage to chants of “World Star”, he soon returns with his brother, Atlanta rapper Steve G Lover, for a more traditional live hip-hop set. Performing mixtape tracks ‘One Up’ and ‘Unnecessary’ to backing tracks cut together with gunshot sounds, the ironic take on the genre’s usual live efforts actually works well in incorporating some of his best moments outside of the realms of a polished studio album.
Extending the cliché, Gambino welcomes back the band and requests something “eptunesy” to freestyle over, before spitting an obviously pre-written track, hook and all, which, to his credit, includes the personalised punch line “Skeeted on her breast, well I guess I Man-chest-her,” before reminding us that he should be in our top fives even if they include Kendrick Lamar and Pusha T.
This is the kind of show that takes an artist that we are on the fence about and converts us into fully-fledged fans, a rare thing within the rap sector. Finishing off with ‘Earth: The Oldest Computer’ sums everything up, returning to the melodies used in ‘Oakland’, the upbeat rapping of ‘Bonfire’ and the electronic production of ‘Heartbeat’, Gambino’s music, and its diversity in particular, really comes to life on the stage.
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Words: Grant Brydon