When I saw Childish Gambino perform at The Fillmore in Detroit on March 22, my friends were set on heading to the main-floor pit. I hate pits at concerts. I always get shoved or groped or have a crowd surfer fall on me, and I always end up surrounded by people way taller than my five-foot-four frame. So I tend to hang at the back of the pit, on a ledge, where I can see over everyone’s heads.
But I wanted the full experience for the Gambino concert. I’ve been an avid fan of his since his first mixtape, Poindexter, was released in 2009. I obsess over his album and mixtape releases, and often play the tracks on repeat for way too long, singing (rapping?) along to every word. I’ve had two other chances to see Gambino live, but somehow things got in the way and I never made it to the performances.
I wanted to feel the energy of the crowd as well as watch Gambino’s performance, so I decided that for a show I’ve been waiting to see for nearly five years, the pit was an okay place to be.
Gambino’s Deep Web Tour opened with DJ Stefan Ponce, a Chicago-based DJ who produced Childish Gambino’s “3005.” He spent about an hour hyping the audience up with radio rap and the likes of Snoop Dogg, DMX, Kanye West, and more. The DJ’ing was simple, and I felt sort of like I was at a frat party, seeing as I was standing in front of some drunk twenty-somethings who tried to grab my ass (Note to everyone: Consent is an important, beautiful thing — learn what it is and always ask for it). The crowd was into the set though, and we all sang along to every song.
One of the coolest parts of the Deep Web Tour was an interactive backdrop, where people submitted comments and drawings to a smartphone app, which were then displayed on the massive screen for everyone to see. There were college shoutouts, crude drawings, friends commenting to other friends, etc.
When the opening set ended, DJ Stefan announced that Gambino would be out shortly, and the announcement was followed by a few minutes of dial tones and telephone rings. The screen kept rolling with tweets and drawings, but when the dial tone lengthened, the backdrop quickly changed to blue prints of what looked to be a mansion. About 10 people walked onto the stage and sat throughout on various couches and chairs included on the set.
Eventually, the backdrop changed to a scene of the inside of a huge hall of sorts, and Gambino came on stage in his classic short shorts that he references often in his music. He started the show with “Crawl,” from his newest album, Because the Internet. The crowd of course went nuts the minute the bass dropped.
I lost my friends in the pit within the first 30 seconds of “I. The Crawl” and realized that I would be on my own for the rest of the show. I squeezed between people and under the arms of tall people jumping in order to find a space where I could both stand comfortably and see the stage, and I succeeded by the end of the second song.
The first portion of the show was primarily Because the Internet tracks. “IV. Sweatpants” was executed perfectly, through having the audience sing along with the chorus, “Don’t be mad ‘cause I’m doing me better than you doing you.” The stage production was unreal as well. At one point, a transparent curtain came across the front of the stage, with various text and designs projected onto it like a screen. Before “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information),” the curtain displayed rain, and a Siri-like voice came on, like it did before most songs, to instill words of wisdom and love into the audience. And when the beat dropped, the crowd went crazy.
As a fan who has followed Gambino for a long time, I was semi-disappointed that the entire set list of the first portion of his show was Because the Internet songs. But then he came out for his encore. The backdrop changed from the inside of a house to a bonfire in the woods, which, if you know Gambino, that means Camp is coming out.
“Heartbeat,” a personal favorite of mine and probably the only song Gambino has had regularly played on the radio, had the crowd jumping to the dubstep background and singing every word. The end, “Ayo fuck this / Are we dating? / Are we fucking? / Are we best friends? / Are we something in between that? / I wish we never fucked, and I mean that” rang throughout the venue as the entire crowd sang along.
Gambino’s lyrics are crude, but they’re also socially conscious, witty, and remarkable at times. He plays with words consistently and creates jokes within jokes and references songs in other songs. I would go into detail, but I’d rather you look him up yourself and explore his vulgar, smart style all on your own.
He sang songs from Camp, Culdesac, and EP. He did medleys so he could fit multiple songs into short amounts of time, and even included his song with his brother, Steve G. Lover, off of Royalty, titled “One Up.” He probably fit more than 25 songs into his hour-and-a-half performance, and it all flowed smoothly and kept the audience fully captivated.
After the old-song jam, Gambino and Steve G. Lover ended the show with a freestyle, where they referenced Detroit pop culture and ended the show on a high note for everyone at the show. He thanked the audience, left the darkened stage, and lights illuminated the venue.
Since falling in love with Gambino’s music five years ago, I’ve always been nervous of going to one of his shows. I’m a huge concert goer, and I’ve been disappointed by favorites almost as many times as I’ve been impressed by unknown bands. I was worried that a Childish Gambino concert wouldn’t live up to the high expectations I held. But I now know that I had nothing to worry about.
Although the show contained more new music that I would have liked (I wanted Gambino à la the I am Just a Rapper phase) and plenty more vocal riff than I expected, when the concert ended I was ecstatic that I finally saw the rapper I’ve loved for years. From the stage production to the performances, it was all wonderfully done.
Post-show, the crowd dispersed and I was left waiting for my friends in the emptying pit. We had ended up on opposite ends of the stage and far from the drunk twenty-somethings we’d begun the show next to. We were sore and drenched in sweat, but we had smiles on our faces, realizing that we had just seen a genius performer give a fantastic show.
Written by Kelly McLaughlin