Written by Alex Brazeau
Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover (or, if you still aren’t sure who we’re talking about, Troy from NBC’s hit comedy Community), the co-headliner of Saturday night’s hip hop-heavy lineup, appeared on the Claridge Homes stage under the evening sun and got straight to business. He wasted no time opening his set with an intense energy like he’d been trying to stay low-key all day, just waiting to explode in this moment. Bouncing, jumping, and shuffling around, with his eyes wide and exaggerated expressions, Gambino rapped his frenetic and fast-paced lyrics over the beats being laid down by the live band behind him.
Nearly jumping into the crowd in the early stages of the set, he grabbed a girl’s cell phone from the front row and started recording himself rapping, giving her an up-close and personal keepsake of the moment. A true showman onstage, and far beyond the usual “triple threat”, Glover started out making his way as a writer on 30 Rock; an actor in Community; a producer of short films; and other various roles in film, television and music productions. For now, he appears to have settled on what seems to be his more permanent choice as a rapper, singer, and record producer—but it’s quite clear that he refuses to be pigeonholed into any one aspect of the entertainment industry.
Despite this penchant for branching out into new projects, over the course of the hour-long show, not once did Gambino ever have fans questioning his loyalty to his music. He had come to put on a show at Bluesfest and he certainly did not disappoint the crowd of over 5,000 plus who had showed up to watch him perform. The set was composed mostly of tracks from his sophomore release Because the Internet, a concept album the 30-year-old entertainer used to showcase the arsenal of skills he’s built up over his years in the biz. Along with the LP, there was a short film prologue, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, and an accompanying screenplay to be read while you listened along to the album song-by-song.
If there was one complaint to have about the show, it was that the bass was so overpowering during so many of the songs that the sound often became muffled, including Gambino’s voice, as he took the crowd through most of the cuts from his latest record. Hitting singles like “Crawl” and “3005”, he also made sure to go over some of the deeper album cuts like “WorldStar”, “Zealots of Stockholm”, and “Earth: The Oldest Computer”. To the satisfaction of some of the longer-term ‘Bino fans gathered in front of the stage, he had laced his setlist with a selection of crowd-pleasers from some his earlier releases, like his freshman debut Camp (with “Bonfire”, “Heartbeat”, and “Fire Fly”) and even a few old mixtape tracks like Royalty’s “Black Faces”.
After just over sixty minutes onstage and with darkness falling on the Lebreton Flats concert grounds, Childish Gambino ended his set and left the stage looking exhausted after rocking the crowd as long and hard as he had. But as we frantically made movements towards the night’s next act, Gambino returned to the stage to spit what sounded like a ridiculous couple of freestyles as an encore. We stopped to give it a quick listen but by then we were too far away to really make anything out… plus, it was time head over to the Bell stage to catch west coast gangsta rap legend, Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion—the weekend’s big headliner—make his return to Ottawa.