As we all know already, American R&B/rap superstar Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) is on his way to New Zealand this coming November, bringing his mysterious PHAROS shows to Tapapakanga Regional Park. Fortunately, I was very privileged to get an early preview of what New Zealand fans could experience in two months time at the legendary Madison Square Garden as Gambino bought his This is America tour to New York.
Glover, having announced earlier in the year that this tour would be his last as Childish Gambino and with a new album expected before the end of the year, anticipation was high at the Garden as a sold-out crowd filled the venue to get a chance to catch a man who has taken 2018 by storm largely thanks to this excellent This is America song and video.
By the time I arrived at the venue, support act Rae Sremmurd had already played and the Garden was at near capacity with a buzz in the air and anticipation building for the main man to arrive on stage.
Shortly after, Glover and his excellent backing band, the same musicians who played on his 2016 album Awaken, My Love took to the stage to a rapturous welcome and proceeded to take the audience to church in Glover’s words and in the process leaving it all on the stage.
Wearing his now usual stage costume of white pants and no shirt, this was like an old seventies funk/soul show with Gambino channelling the greats of funk and R&B with his playful and energetic performance style, think George Clinton, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Glover worked the stage excellently, while he also danced up a storm with some moves that would have made those greats I mentioned proud. He was also in an interactive mood, leaving the stage twice to sing in the audience, while also testing the encore cheering of the crowd backstage on the big screen by gesturing to his ear. It worked because that was the loudest cheer I have ever heard for an encore at any gig by a long way.
The setlist was nicely varied as well. The big hits such as This is America and Redbone got the biggest crowd reception, complete with sing-alongs, while Gambino also played some new songs including Algorythm with its dance-funk showing promise for his long-awaited new album.
However, it was the deeper cuts for me, especially from Awaken, My Love which made the show. Tracks like Have Some Love, Boogieman, and Terrified were terrific, with that contemporary p-funk style going down an absolute treat in a venue in which George Clinton and his P-Funk crew played at most famously in 1977 on their Mothership Connection tour.
Childish Gambino has proven himself to be one of the most diverse R&B artists of the decade and that fact was on display at Madison Square Garden. He raps, sings, dances, and essentially preaches from the stage, all to an audience who appear in rapture. If this is indeed the last Childish Gambino tour well he is certainly making sure he goes out on a high if what I saw at Madison Square Garden was anything to go by.
I was quite simply blown away by the man’s stage presence and energy levels in what was as Glover suggested at the start quite a religious experience, musically anyhow. If you have an opportunity to see this man and his band live when he comes to Auckland shortly, take it up because you won’t regret it, I am telling you that for sure.