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Childish Gambino @ Eagles Ballroom

March 21, 2014

Mar. 24, 2014
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Photo credit: Alexander Stafford
The transition from credible rapper to comedic actor is so familiar as to almost be a bona fide career path, but while everyone from Ice Cube to Mos Def has gone from spitting bars to reciting lines over the years, it’s rare that it works the other way around, Donald Glover (and to a certain extent, Drake) being the unlikely exception. Rising to notoriety as a writer on “30 Rock,” and more directly through his starring role as lovable dumb jock Troy Barnes on the cult hit NBC sitcom “Community,” Glover quickly took his elevated status as an excuse to indulge his musical ambitions under the guise of Childish Gambino, a gamble that’s paid off with a pair of well-received albums and enough of a following to sell out a sizable venue like the Eagles Ballroom.

Glover’s adopted MC appellation was initially spit out by a novelty internet Wu-Tang Clan name generator, but despite the jokey title, the project itself comes with a heaping dose of earnestness, one that’s likely to catch anyone only familiar with his television persona off guard but plays particularly well with the younger set, who turned out in full force Friday night. Glover emerged, followed by a complete band, amidst a futuristic barrage of 3D projections. The display jibed well with the conceptual theme of his new Glassnote Records release Because the Internet but sort of dwarfed his individual stage presence as he threw himself into an eclectic set, covering crowd pleasing new tracks like “Pink Toes,” highlights from his debut Camp, including the aspirational “Fire Fly,” and even mixtape deep cuts such as “Do Ya Like.”

It was an energetic performance, but despite his best efforts, the full band sound never quite coalesced, struggling under a clumsy, overblown mix that often obliterated the better part of Glover’s flow. That’s to be expected at the Eagles Ballroom, but it took a rather severe toll here since Glover’s revealing lyrics, which flaunt his talents as a writer as well as a biting wit, are more or less the heart of Gambino’s appeal. Without them, the show was left more visually engaging than musically, especially during the Camp portions when a forest scene flickered vividly to life behind him. There were certainly moments of clarity, during which the massive teenage crowd tended to perk up a bit, but overall, in a live setting, the songs left a little something to be desired.


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