Everyone knows that Donald Glover is funny--aside from his role as Troy Barnes on NBC's Community, he wrote much of Tracy Morgan's 30 Rock character--so putting his best foot forward, or at least his best-known foot, Glover led into his tour stop at Neumos last night with a stand-up set. Keeping with the tour's name, IAMDONALD, he actually led into it too; the show started promptly at 9 p.m., ended at 10:30 p.m. and had just one name on the bill.
The comedy portion fit in with the high expectations--its length sparked the only murmurs that were anything other than ecstatic--but it was Glover's alter ego Childish Gambino, the angst-ridden rapper, who had something to prove (I see you Noz, and Grandy.) And he had no problem following through.Joined by a multi-instrumental backing quartet that contributed keys, bass, violin, and various percussion, at times the gig took on a rock 'n' roll vibe to match the rawness of Glover's stage energy. Taking care of most-popular tracks "Do Ya Like" and "Freaks and Geeks" early on and back-to-back, the musical set meandered through material from both his Culdesac album and the more recent EP.
With just a video transition separating the two pieces, Glover's ability to transform from comedian to musician was impressive in itself. But it was more than just switching gears--he spit all the written rhymes, he freestyled, he really hit the falsetto notes on "Be Alone." When he let fly "My Shine," the irony was in your face: "See you usin' qualifiers, you don't even know, 'I guess he good for a rapper who on a TV show.'"
His approach flies in the face of some hip-hop purists--"These smart middle-class black kids need a role model," he raps on "Not Going Back, "You want a dude who keep it real, and stay hood/I'm sorry, babe, but I act me/I don't act black, whatever that be"--and that's certainly not helping his chances for industry success. But the desperation in Glover's intricate lyrics, and the very real talent that acts as their vehicle, aren't going anywhere.
Oh, and remember how the first person to tweet a picture of "GAMBINO" shaved in their head got backstage passes to the show? More people attempted it than you'd think. This kid was one of the lucky winners: