“If you bought a ticket to this concert, that means you bought a ticket to the last Childish Gambino tour ever,” a shirtless Gambino, born Donald Glover, told Madison Square Garden on Friday night (Sept. 14). He then delivered a word of caution: “You don’t need to record this s--t. This is that moment. This is not a concert. This is church.”
And at times, interspersed between the rapid-fire rhymes, his show did mimic a religious experience when he would effortlessly wail or fall to his knees. Throughout, his dance moves remained undeniably smooth and impassioned, as if his entire body had been possessed by his own music.
The setlist largely teetered between two of his three full-length albums, 2013’s Because The Internet and 2016’s acclaimed Awaken, My Love! For any fans wanting something else, Gambino only had one thing to say: “If you’re not here to enjoy yourself, freak out, you should go home. I’m stoked for this s--t.”
But because of the stark departure between the rap flow of Internet and Awaken's establishment of Gambino as a funky R&B mastermind, the set’s flow felt disjointed at times. Even still, the crowd and Gambino were perfectly content: although he’s so clearly moved on from the moniker that propelled him to his current stature, this show and this tour are all about saying his goodbyes -- and, more importantly, giving his fans closure.
His entire performance was made with his fans in mind to an up-close-and-personal point. Before the halfway point,Gambino left the stage, trailed by cameras as he walked backstage and waved to employees selling concessions and his own merch on the main floor. He soon appeared in the 100 section of the arena (“I just wanted a better view!"). As he made his way down the aisle, he grabbed a fry from a fan and asked his pianist to strike up “Stand Tall,” which he sang while making his way back to the spotlight.
His band was lowered into a faux orchestra pit, leaving the stage entirely clear save for four dancers who would occasionally join Gambino's routine. But any elaborate staging or effects beyond this would have only been distracting. By giving everything he had -- including the shirt on his back -- Gambino himself was the only spectacle needed.
“I used to come here to see some of my favorite rap acts when I was going to NYU,” he recalled while kneeling down at the front of the extended stage. The weight of what he has since accomplished -- seven Grammy nominations and one win, plus seven Emmy nominations and two wins, among other successes -- was not lost on him.
He flexed his upper register on “Have Some Love” and later was elevated on a platform for the debut of, as he said, “some new shit I’m working on.” The pop-leaning R&B track, titled “Spirits,” opened with a brief back-and-forth:
“Where are those winter girls?”
What followed kicked off the final, and most jam-packed, run of the night. Gambino ripped through his No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit “This Is America,” bringing his symbolic choreography to life, then powered through “Sober,” off his 2014 mixtape STN MTN/Kauai, “V. 3005,” “IV. Sweatpants” and finally closed out with “Redbone.”
No sentiment better sums up why Glover is likely leaving Gambino behind than when he sang, “Don't be mad cause I'm doing me better than you doing you,” on “IV.” And as he segued into the drenched-in-soul track “Redbone” -- the highest-charting Awaken track on the Hot 100 at No. 12 -- it’s hard, if not impossible, to fault him for wanting to explore the new path he’s found.