“Everybody put your phones down. This right here is not for the outside. This experience is just for us. This is not a concert. This is church.”
Childish Gambino’s voice could barely be heard over the din of the crowd. Every member of the audience who had their phone raised above their head obediently put it away. The pastor was speaking now.
The “This is America” tour is Donald Glover’s last tour under the childish moniker. I attended one of the last versions of it in Phoenix and the experience was incredible.
Ever since the lights went down in Gila River Arena the entire audience stood and swayed with the rhythm of Gambino’s finest creations.
Gambino has Freddy Mercury-like charisma on stage. He connects with the audience in a way I’ve never seen before.
The show began with two unreleased songs that lead into “The Worst Guys” and “Worldstar”. The audience belted out each word and kept their eyes locked on the showman.
There were two jumbotrons on each side of the stage that showed different angles of the concert, the crowd and the lightshow, but I never wanted to look at them for too long. I instead watched Gambino swagger around the stage.
As “Worldstar” came to a close, Gambino walked backstage. A camera crew followed him as he walked onto the concourse and past the different ushers who guard the section entrances. The tension in the room was immense as the entire crowd hoped Gambino would strut down the stairs that led into their section.
He entered a section across the arena from where I was sitting and said he wanted to see the arena from a different view.
“It’s a nice arena you got here…” Gambino paused a long moment. “Let’s play some music.”
He high fived fans on his way back to the stage and played almost every song from his latest studio album, “Awaken, My Love.”
I’ve been to other concerts where the artist tries to make the show an event. They take numerous breaks between songs to shout out their crew, make a joke, tell a story or ramble on about a political issue.
This show had no gimmicks. Every pause in the music was brief and was only in the program to keep the tension building.
His laser light show was engaging but not distracting and the bass was strong enough to make you check your phone to see why it was vibrating. I didn’t want to look at the time because every minute that passed meant the experience was closer to being over.
He recreated the dancing from the “This is America” music video and improved plenty of high chords before disappearing back stage again. The crowd rose and begged for an encore.
The jumbotron showed Gambino backstage, shirtless and chain clad as always, holding up one more finger, and talking to members of his production crew.
Then Act II began.
The second half of the show was all the hits. He came out belting “Sober”, then a fantastic remix of “3005”, then “Sweatpants” and banger after banger.
The audience reached another level during Act II. Everyone in the crowd was dancing, singing the lyrics and soaking in the moment. This was it. It felt like attending one of his last shows was a sacred opportunity.
As the concert drew to a close I thought about the Donald Glover that starred on NBC’s “Community” and his own comedy specials. I couldn’t believe that was the same person I was watching on stage.
This was a grown man with a grown mindset. Gambino didn’t include anything from his first mixtapes or his first studio album in the set list. His early music was either angry or ironic, but what he played in Phoenix showed the evolution of himself as an artist.
Closing with “Redbone” was a culmination of the maturation of Childish Gambino. He implored the audience to stay woke, love one another and seek after truth as he walked off the stage.
He walked off the stage and there was nothing childish about him. The audience was afraid to move. It felt like we were waiting for a closing prayer.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Connor Sanders