As soon as I looked down at the stage below me while Rae Sremmurd delivered a messy but high energy show opener, I noticed the chairs laid out in tidy rows, reminiscent of a Sunday mass. Childish Gambino made his DC stop on the 19th of September at the Capitol One Arena. Gambino later said to the crowd, “This is not a concert… this is church” – confirming what seemed visually obvious, but it struck me nonetheless.
This is America is Donald Glover’s last tour under the Childish Gambino moniker, and with the finality of this segment of his career, Glover comes bearing new music. He opened with "Algorhythm," an unreleased song that ticket buyers were emailed (along with another unreleased track) ahead of the concert.
Unlike watching Rae Sremmurd’s overly-eager opening act, or even the rap titans Drake and Migos, who had played Capital One Arena twice the week before on their Aubrey and the Three Migos tour, watching Gambino writhe on stage and dance in only his white pants felt genuine and intimate in the huge stadium. Gambino dancing without a shirt à la his “This is America” music video was so naked: it was hard to tear my eyes away from it, as he looked totally free and blissful. He wove in and out of his old songs, such as “Worldstar” and “Sweatpants”, and his new ones, like “Feels Like Summer” and “Boogieman”. The concert made me feel as though I was at something special, with every detail of the blue laser flashing amidst blue and red clouds of smoke planned to a tee.
The aesthetics of the show were most notable in Gambino’s performance of “Terrified;” behind Gambino, a screening of him and a woman drowning in water with explosions of color showed. The small section of the stage that he was standing on during “Spirits” rose slowly above the audience – Gambino didn’t need much to elevate his presence above the crowd, but it still worked. Another notable element of the concert was his adamant insistence against the audience holding up their phones: “This isn’t for anyone out there… YOU bought the tickets.”
Glover’s presence in the entertainment industry has risen dramatically in the last few years. His prominent change in style from the Because the Internet days in 2013 to the musically and culturally distinct “Awaken, My Love!” in 2016 was made apparent by the uber popular “Redbone,” which earned him his Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Gambino created the series Atlanta on FX in the same year, and it has since spanned 2 seasons. His recent appearance in Solo as young Lando was one of the film’s better qualities. With all this in mind, it is understandable that the audiences was clamoring to capture the last of Childish Gambino live on their phones, despite his insistence against it: no one wanted to forget it. I felt guilty doing so myself, not an exception to the “no phones, please!” policy. I have always liked Donald Glover, no matter the context: whether appreciating the album Camp or the FX series Community. I felt this palpable sentiment amongst the entire crowd at the concert, from people who had come from near and far to experience his music.
Gambino jumped into “This is America” after explaining how it was a reaction to the Baltimore riots. The live band was given its due attention and the audience delighted in his background dancers, who performed various stunts ranging from backflips to splits. He returned for the encore with total ease and comfort, leading the audience back into “Sober,” “3005,” “Sweatpants,” and finally “Redbone.” The entire stadium knew every word. This made me realize that his fans all like post-Awaken, My Love! Gambino, but we all love his work from before, as well. As we bid farewell to an era in the life of an ever-changing artist, one cannot help but wonder what will come next.
This might be the last Childish Gambino tour, but it has certainly been a remarkable one.