ROD LAVER ARENA, JULY 17
Donald Glover had a stranglehold on entertainment in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
As people packed cinemas to watch him star in Disney’s Lion King on its opening night, fans filed into Rod Laver Arena to watch his genre-bending pop show under the alias Childish Gambino.
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino in Las Vegas in September last year. Credit:Invision
Glover the artist is hard to pin down – jumping from the blistering social commentary of his Emmy Award-winning TV show Atlanta one minute, to Simba the next.
In front of a captivated audience, Glover ran the gamut of his diverse music career, kicking off with a neon southern gospel service – complete with a five-person choir wearing vestments – that set the theme for the night.
“This is church,” the shirtless and heavily bearded singer-writer-actor explained, laying down some rules for his congregation.
Firstly, love each other, just as he loved us during what was “the last ever Childish Gambino show” (he’s been threatening to retire the moniker for a while).
Second, put your phone down, because this was for us in the room, “not out there”.
Backed by a small squad of dancers, he lurched quickly from the tropical dance floor jam Summertime Magic to the menacing Southern trap of Worldstar.
Proving just as hard to pin down physically, Glover had soon disappeared and returned high among the aisles of Rod Laver Arena, directing his exceptional six-piece band from a distance into the slower, p-funk jams that marked his most recent album, Awaken, My Love.
This was the material that landed best – all slinky bass lines, psychedelic guitars and Glover free to sing, dance (constantly) and coax the crowd into his hypnotic re-imagining of the past 40 years of popular black music.
Glover was supposed to play in Melbourne in November but had to cancel due to a broken foot.
“It took a minute to get here” he said, showing his thanks. “Y’all waited.”
On a scale of one to 10, he said this crowd was “a hard 15”. (Perth two nights ago was reportedly a seven-point-five. Ouch.)
Not afraid to lay the theme on thick, Glover literally ascended during his most positive and euphoric number, the unreleased Human Sacrifice, as his centre court podium raised high above his crowd.
That, along with his eye-popping dancers, was potent enough to keep the good vibes going through This is America – arguably Glover’s crowning artistic achievement but, with lyrics canvassing black people’s experience of violence, police brutality and racism in the USA, is as bleak as anything you’re likely to hear on radio.
After a brief stint backstage taunting the crowd over whether it deserved, he returned for a blazing final set of the dance-floor pleasers Sober, 3005 and Sweatpants.
During the closing bars of the Bootsy-licious Redbone Glover again waded through the adoring crowd.
“This is church,” he said, as though looking for someone to whom he could restore the power of sight or make walk again. “I want to get closer”.
He might not really be a pastor. But as one of his generation’s consummate entertainers, Glover proves himself rightly sanctified.
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