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Childish Gambino isn’t just a rapper, he’s a performer. The demand for tickets for this one-off Splendour In The Grass Sideshow forced a venue upsize soon after they went on sale, proving Sydney was already switched on to the appeal of actor Donald Glover’s musical persona. He repayed us last night with his theatrical best, an effortless, active and lithe show, always playing the roles his tunes demand.
With chants of “Worldstar!” raising the roof as the bass began to pump, Gambino came out heavy with Crawl, from second studio album Because the Internet. An apparently superflous boom of “Sydney, let me see you move!” resonated as Worldstar kicked in, meeting the crowd’s demands just two songs in.
Gambino himself was busting some serious shoulder dancing in the glow of his stage dressing, a digital display which shifted between screensaver visuals and a backdrop with marble columns and a wall filled with frames. He rolled out a furious cavalcade of crowd-pleasers including Shadows, Sweatpants, Heartbeat and Firefly, still moving relentlessly, body curling and unfurling.
In the midst of the rapid fire, two lucky girls somehow managed to find themselves dancing onstage. Lighters came out as Pink Toes was dedicated to “everyone who’s got a girl here”. Then the almighty 3005, sending everyone into an absolute frenzy on the dance floor and culminating with a sweaty slow clap, arms raised high.
Watch: Childish Gambino Freestyle in Sydney
Though he might have been playing the audience like a puppeteer, he’s still got the chops to impress even the most hardened hip hop critic. The encore showcased Gambino’s lyrical prowess and mastery of flow as he went back to perform some of his “old shit”, rifling through a medley of tracks from his first EP and debut album CAMP to showcase Black Faces, All the Shine, Freaks and Geeks and Bonfire before the unexpected highlight of the night.
Not wanting to leave, despite having “nothing else to perform”, Gambino asked his crew if they should freestyle, encouraging the sea of eager onlookers to make their approval audible. Some punters lit cigarettes, as if the lock-in had started and the real fun was about to begin. True to form our last treat of the evening was some improvisation, with Gambino making sure to drop the pre-requisite Australian buzzwords — even if they were “5 Seconds Of Summer” and “Manly Beach”.
Then he dropped the bombshell, calling out Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Schoolboy Q to the overwhelming approval of the crowd. “I’m the best rapper, definitely Top 5… I cut their head off, that’s every rapper living. That’s Kendrick, that’s Drake, that’s Schoolboy, that’s everyone. I don’t give a fuck.”
So it ended how it began, looking and sounding menacing. But it’s all show though, right? Either way watching Gambino live on Sunday night is infinitely more rewarding than watching another Community rerun.
Childish Gambino Sydney Hordern Pavilion Setlist
The Worst Guys
Do Ya Like / Got This Money / Heartbeat / Firefly / Yaphett Kotto
Death by Numbers
Flight of the Navigator
Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)
Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)
One Up (with Steve G. Lover)
All the Shine / Sunrise / Freaks and Geeks / Bonfire
Image: Childish Gambino plays up to the crowd at the Hordern in Sydney on Sunday / Photo: Liam Cameron