Despite my affect for silly cons, I am not what you would call a music man. I like plenty of bands but most of the time my iPod is playing podcasts. So I have never been to a concert because it’s never been something that’s interested me. Yet my brother Brandon has grown into a really big Childish Gambino fan so for his birthday I got us tickets for when he came to Indianapolis.
We have both followed Donald Glover’s career for years. In high school I adored his Derrick Comedy sketch videos. Then he wrote for 30 Rock, performed stand-up and then became one of the lead actors for one of my favorite comedies Community. During all of that, Glover decided he also wants to be a rap star. Although there are some funny lyrics in his songs, it’s not a comedy act. His alter ego, Childish Gambino, is a legitimate artist that easily filled a room full of Hoosiers eager to hear him.
When people look at me they don’t automatically think “Yeah, he’s going to a rap concert tonight.” It probably didn’t help that I was wearing a nerdy t-shirt and jeans. I was quickly called out for my attire, but oddly not by anyone in the audience but by the ticket guy. I talked to him right after being patted down. (They didn't think my pocket watch can be used as a weapon. Idiots...)
Ticket Guy: (Reading my shirt) Lords of Time? What’s that?
Me: Doctor Who.
Ticket Guy: What?
Me: It’s from Doctor Who.
Ticket Guy: Oh I get it. Yeah, yeah. You would like that. I can see it in your eyes.
Me: Uh oh. What does that mean?
Ticket Guy: You like Star Trek?
Ticket Guy: Harry Potter?
Ticket Guy: Good, very good.
I still have no idea if that guy liked or disliked Doctor Who or if I answered the rest of his questions properly. He let me in so that was a plus.
Now this concert was at the Egyptian Room, which is a nice big place with an open floor. I used to have a problem with crowds and loud music, but then I started drinking. I ordered one unreasonably priced but strong drink and I was ready to go.
There was an opening act that started right at eight, which I appreciated. I would tell you who he was, but I have no idea. He probably said his name several times, but I could never understand him. The sound was great, all the equipment was working. He just couldn’t enunciate anything. For 40 minutes, I only heard a few phrases per song like “Ned Flander’s son” or him asking the crowd to suck his dick. I politely said no.
During this time, I bounced my head up and down to the beat and drank my drink. Then I had a new focus. I had to get my drink to a trash can. I couldn’t just leave the crowd and go to the back. I would never find Brandon again. My parents are lovely people, but they would not be happy if I didn’t bring him home. Luckily there was a can just a few feet from me. Unluckily, it was being surrounded by these two sets of couples who were sensually swaying to every song. I am awful at understanding any sort of beat or rhythm, but I can’t help any wonder if they were deaf. Every song, same sway. Even between songs when Nameless Rapper was taking a quick drink of water, same sway. Their vibe was that they were annoyed they had to be there because they couldn’t be having sex right now. So I held onto my cup until we were able to scooch forward when people moved after the opening act.
Not surprising considering this is Indiana, but the crowd was mostly white. What was surprising was that I felt older than most of them. I felt like I was having flashbacks of high school football games, but unlike then I didn’t leave at halftime to do anything better with my time.
When Childish Gambino arrived, everything changed. The crowd was nice to Nameless Rapper, but they were there to see Gambino. First song—“Outside”—made everybody pumped not only because he was feet away from them, but he was encouraging everyone to sing the chorus. These weren’t fans; these were super fans.
Early on he did my favorite song of his, the incredibly popular “Freaks and Geeks.” The crowd went nuts. The screen was blasting all the lyrics. The energy was insane mostly because of how much Gambino brings to every performance. Somehow everything kept escalating to its epic encore finale. He freestyled, he kept losing articles of clothing, he’s rapping at exhausting speeds. I really don’t know how he does this at every venue. It’s a sight to be seen.
Once again, the crowd loved him. When Gambino asked for everyone to bounce, we obliged. Some went a little too far and thought that crowd surfing was a good idea. No. Those people are assholes. I saw one person who left holding her face because when you’re crowd surfing, you’re basically just kicking everybody in the head. The crowd reacted properly by getting them far away from their friends, taking off their shoes and throwing them. All was deserved.
The crowd always encouraged me because I know there’s no way they are all getting what he’s saying. I have this problem with referencing things all the time. Like I made a video in college that ended with a couple of jokes about Yasujiro Ozu because of course I did. If you didn’t get what I was talking about you feel isolated. That’s part of the problem with Community because people become conscious that they should be getting a reference. Childish Gambino magically gets past that and I think it’s due to his speed and how rap works.
In one of his songs (“That Power”) he raps, “Uncool, but lyrically I’m a stone cold killer/So it’s 400 blows to these Truffaut ni**as/Yeah, now that’s the line of the century/Ni**as missed it, too busy, they lyin’ ‘bout penitentiary.”
He’s talking about the film The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut that started the birth of the French New Wave. All of that goes by so quickly and he’s already onto a new topic that is better understood like how other rappers lie to help their thug presence. Nobody ever feels left out because the meaning is made while everything sounding cool. He’s reaching a different audience by rapping about Things Fall Apart and e.e. cummings. His wit shines through even with the silliest topics like “Took the G out your waffle, all you got left is your ego.” I’m sure there are refernces to other rappers that I’m not getting and I have no idea. Somehow Gambino is able to be secretly obscure while having this badass delivery.
By the end, everyone was tired from jumping and bouncing so much but could have easily stayed for another hour. Brandon was overjoyed not just because he was tall enough to see all of the show. I have a friend who says this may not have been the best concert to see first because none other may able to match up to it. Perhaps that’s true. Still, I defied expectations and had a blast at a rap concert even if my eyes suggest I’m more comfortable at a Doctor Who convention.