“Austin, I broke my foot last year, but I won’t let you down this year,” declared Childish Gambino, making good on the headlining set he canceled a year ago. True to his word, the musical alter ego of the supremely talented Donald Glover brought fireworks to Zilker Park Saturday night. Literally.
The tireless multi-talent – comedian, writer, actor, director, singer, rapper – remains such a force that the mid-set pyrotechnics hardly proved necessary.
Gambino first appeared, as if from the ether, shirtless and perched high above the crowd on a raised platform. The entrance echoed Kanye West’s headlining performance on the same stage in 2011, the year Glover debuted Childish Gambino locally at SXSW and Fun Fun Fun Fest when most folks knew him – if at all – as Troy from the NBC comedy series Community. Like West, creative ideas spew from Glover like a firehose, and as Yeezus careens into a gonzo gospel phase, Gambino, who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, took the ACL Fest congregation to church.
“This is an experience, this is something to feel,” he said early in the set, asking for phones to stay in pockets. “I came here for church.”
That explains the robed choir that accompanied the 36-year-old alongside a stellar backing sextet. The feel-good vibes of “Summertime Magic,” appropriate enough for a sweltering fall evening, preceded internet rap standouts “The Worst Guys” and “Worldstar.” Glover leapt offstage during the latter, taking prized selfies with front row fans and ignoring his own plea.
Awaken, My Love! cuts “Boogieman,” “Have Some Love,” and “Riot” anchored a stretch of swirling psychedelic funk drawing heavily from deep and dirty Parliament Funkadelic and Sly Stone. Gambino howled like JB and spun like MJ, his evolution from angsty emo rapper to funk torchbearer complete.
The incendiary “This is America,” complete with gospel choir and gun claps, closed the set as cameras followed Glover backstage for a water break while considering whether to indulge the crowd for an inevitable encore. Glover then closed the four-song encore with “Redbone,” an epic slow jam and his musical magnum opus. As the song ended, he dropped to his knees, then flat on his back in the grass in front of the stage, his sweaty body now covered with bits of Austin’s great lawn.
Glover said last year that his This is America Tour would be his last performance as Childish Gambino, potentially making these ACL Fest performances the end of an era. If this is it, he certainly left it all onstage. We’ll stay woke for whatever comes next.
“I tried to tell y’all it was church,” he closed. “Thank you, Austin. I love you forever.”
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