Live Review

Childish Gambino, KOKO, London

A Childish Gambino show at its most explicit.

There’s one thing that becomes clear as an agonising two hour wait gives way to tonight’s proceedings - the man that sets foot on the KOKO’s stage tonight is not the Donald Glover of comedy lore. There are no wisecracks to be had, no goofy references to non music-related exploits of the past. This is a Childish Gambino show at its most explicit.

Donned in a homely sweater and customary shorts, Gambino’s kooky clothing choices couldn’t be more dissimilar to the glazed expression that occupies the rapper’s face as he and his band weave expertly through a selection of opening cuts from last year’s ‘Because The Internet’. Inter-song chatter is kept to a minimum, with the closest Gambino gets to acting chummy with his audience is a series of spontaneous freestyles that address topics such as his struggle to be taken seriously, and er, Eddie Murphy.

The quirkier aspects of his persona do occasionally slip through in the flat-out humour of tracks like ‘Sweatpants’, but more often than not, they take a backseat to the moments in which he appears most fragile. The brief interlude segment ‘Urn’ serves as perhaps the most sublime gauge of his singing chops, placing him on par with the smooth and soulful tones of Frank Ocean.

It comes as testament to the leap of progress made with his latest that the material aired from debut album ‘Camp’ is significantly underwhelming in comparison. In theory a song with lead single status like ‘Heartbeat’ should induce jumping and sing-alongs en masse, but this evening the crowd simply nod duly, whilst the rest of his debut’s crème de la crème are thrown together in a whirlwind medley that whooshes by early set with similarly little impact. Even the bass-heavy offerings from 2012’s ‘Royalty’ mixtape within his encore (featuring an appearance from his brother on hype-man duties) are notably less dynamic than their newer counterparts.

At the core of it, it’s a highly impersonal affair, and there are times when the odd musical mix-and-match showcased make it hard to pinpoint what exactly is going on, but tonight’s performance is successful in proving one thing - the days of Childish Gambino being considered the laughing stock of the hip-hop community are seemingly getting shorter by the second.

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