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Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” Tour At Madison Square Garden, Friday, September 15th, 2018, Reviewed

Childish Gambino, the alt-r&b alter ego of Renaissance man Donald Glover, at Madison Square Garden last night, completed a trip from rap parody to self-importance and landed on the other side. With a bushy afro, a full beard, and no shirt (and a chest that must have opening act brothers Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee chuckling to themselves)  Gambino is more Jim Crow as social hammering ram than really anything else at all. Gambino danced his herky jerky South African stylizations and testified to the strangeness of the 2018 experience. Considered an important black American voice after the epic political ramrod “This Is America” blew up just before the summer, Gambino’s re-conceptualized uber-black man,  in the heart of a tour in which he compared to the Church, he just wasn’t that important. What was the point there? For Gambino,  as he told us to put away our cell phones because unlike the real Church we are not meant to spread the word, it was self congratulation: “If you are not here to celebrate and party get out… You bought your ticket so that means it is for us in here , not for them out there, so you don’t need to be recording that shit.” I agree that at his best Gambino is more than just self serving even as he came across as righteous and a bummer.  It’s a fucking arena and Gambino is charging an arm and a leg for a ticket, why, precisely, is he lecturing us about taping the sucker? What has this to do with that?   “This is my last tour,” he claimed. I’m guessing in much the same way as David killed off Ziggy.

If this all sounds a little testy, then that’s not just because I disliked the hive mind reviews I’ve read. I have a problem with Childish alt and neo, art and strut songs: they aren’t that great.  Sure, there are some great ones, the funk band decimated rhythms of “Have Some Love” early, and the still unreleased “Spirits,” followed by set closing “This Is America, ” followed by his song qua song encore opener  “Sober”: now that was righteous, and fun and yet the show was uncomfortable, , it is like he suffers from attention deficit, he is either wandering the corridors or putting up film of his drowning, or singing from the lower ball, or jittering jitterbug Gwara Gwaraing.

Childish isn’t a great MC, he lacks a level of sincerity, but he knows what he is doing and his vision of the black experience is one of angry disturbance, and of societal cutting away from the mainstream even as he embraces. When Gambino mentions he went to NYU he is placing himself in an intellectual continuum that is worth comparing to opening act, the night before he headlined Rihanna’s Diamond Ball, Chance The Rapper has just written an album with him, he isn’t one of us at all.   Opening act Rae Sremmurd from Tupelo, Mississippi (raised in the notorious Ida Street housing projects), their suggestion as to how we might enjoy ourselves is a much more conducive “do shots”.  The brothers last release was a triple, and they still get their biggest response from “Black Beetle,” their 45 minute opening set had them rapping over a DJs bass heavy, beat dropping, and back up tapes where they kept the hooks. It was lively, and I enjoyed it to a limited degree. Gambino had a full rock band (not funk, rock), four back up singers and four dancers, a dazzling light show, and a conceptualized something or the other. The headache is that Gambino is not great at containing his concepts, they dither outward, and since he can’t write a tune to save his life, the hooks are a blurting, disorganizing  ransacking.

This Isn’t America, it isn’t even Black America, it is collegiate black studies 101 without the songs, yet with enough energy and fire, to signify more.

Grade: B-

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