Childish Gambino, the hip-hop project of actor-turned-rapper Donald Glover, is set to deliver a new album within the year. Earlier this summer, Gambino debuted this new album with an exclusive live performance in Joshua Tree. There are no videos and very few photos of this performance due to a strict ban on phones and cameras, but a friend of mine was able to travel to see Glover's show. The following is an eye-witness account written by Sean Pryor:
We showed up Saturday night around 8pm. The event is in Joshua Tree so we are camping out in the desert; the first thing we are told is not to leave the paths because of scorpions. The show didn’t start until midnight, so we set up the tent and went exploring. For a single show ‘Bino had built an entire festival ground. Food trucks, lighting for the paths, etc. The works. People are super friendly, but no one has a clue what is going on. There is a surreal big white dome in the middle of it all.
Come midnight we walk to the dome, and this thing is huge! We have to put our phones and keys in these pouches and then they magnetically lock them up so that no one has access to their phones the whole show. We walk through the revolving doors, each manned by a worker who was spinning them to let us inside. Stars were being projected onto the ceiling, and there was a nice breeze coming from the cool air being pumped in. Slowly, people circle in around the front and then other people come out on stage (a couple guitarists, a choir, a keyboardist, all sorts). Then Childish Gambino comes out with these grass shorts that are pink and yellow, no shirt, but he has three foot-long crazy braids and his body is covered in glow-in-the-dark tribal paint. He did all new music, but none of it was rapping. It was as if he was a completely different artist. He took a long drawn out drink from a giant bowl, like a shaman about to take you on a journey through your mind.
The show itself was crazy with long solos from each of the extremely skilled instrumentalists. Childish was singing and doing all sorts of things. At one point he started screaming into the microphone in different ways, sometimes as loud as he could. Later he was asking if we felt alive and he would stop to look around but it really didn't seem like he was looking at us, just looking through us. Honestly, some of the vocals for a couple songs were actually hard to hear, but that didn't really seem to detract from anything because at this point we were just wrapped up in the whole experience. The actual music had an alternative rock/psychedelic feel to some songs, a very choir/kanye feeling to others, and then almost a tropical reggae inspiration to a few more (I want to say the reggae one was called "California" or something). But all of them were really embellished by the drums, percussion, guitar, and the choir.
Throughout the show he kept projecting different images around us - for example, at one point it started raining and flooding, then meteors appeared. Suddenly, it went nuts and got acid trippy! We began flying through space, with planets flashing by faster and faster before finally looking like light speed and landed at a big grouping of planets. Two hours later, the whole thing ends and the performers walk off stage without saying a thing. A robot voice comes on: "Thank you for attending Pharos, please exit through the revolving doors." Then you leave and walk back out into the desert.
Overall the entire event felt like more of an art piece than a show. I can't wait to hear the music by itself, because at the moment the experience was so holistic it is really hard to think about the music out of context of the visuals and environment. I knew with all the hype and location that this would be different, but it was more surreal than I expected. Some people will definitely hate it, as the music sounds nothing like the current Childish Gambino, but I personally enjoyed the whole show and am excited to see what he does next.
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