Saturday night I closed out my Lollapalooza experience with a show I thought I would feel completely out of place at. I’m not a huge hip-hop guy, but there are a few artists that I listen to and think are pretty good, Childish Gambino being one of my favorites at the moment. The last rap show that I went to, and the one I thought would be my last, was Nelly way back in 2000. He was hot with “Country Grammer” and “Ride Wit Me,” but being popular doesn’t make you good. It’s an embarrassment on my resume, but something that had to be done.
When I walked in Sling Star was on stage playing a DJ set that was mediocre bordering on awful. It wasn’t too long before the opening act came to the stage to do his thing. Chance the Rapper is not a name I’m familiar with (he appears on a track off of Gambino’s new mixtape Royalty), and after his set is probably not one I’ll be following up on. I didn’t understand about one hundred percent of what he was saying, but the people up in the front seemed to know every song and were really into it. His performance was passionate and energized, so I won’t hate too much. But I will say this-at one point the stage filled up with people from behind it, and they all jumped up and down for about 30 seconds while Chance screamed something I couldn’t make out. Then the people that came onto the stage left. It was odd, and pretty perfectly summed up how I felt about the whole set-WTF?
In between Chance and Childish, Sling Star came back because I imagine he’d already been paid so they had to let him. He was spinning some MIA off Arular and “Super Bass” and followed that up with Lauryn Hill. He’s like those radio stations that claim to be “Today’s best music,” but then they only play stuff from a few years ago plus three or four current hits. I just shook my head and laughed it was so bad.
With my hopes for the quality of this show dwindling quickly, the lights fell and suddenly everything was a lot better. Music from Camp came over the speakers as Gambino’s live band took the stage. After a minute the man himself appeared on the stage wearing a hoodie and a determined look in his eyes. He didn’t waste any time launching into an electric set that mixed songs from his whole catalog. I was hoping it wouldn’t lean to heavy on Royalty, and most of those songs were saved for the encore.
The night before I went to see Frank Ocean at Metro, and Childish was the perfect antithesis to that. Where Ocean is laid back and smooth, Gambino is visceral and in your face. His energy was boundless and sent shockwaves through the audience. He spent almost every song running back and forth to each side of the stage, spitting hot fire like Truckasaurus.
The live band definitely helped pump up the crowd, but I did find them a bit obtrusive at times. For me, rap music is more about the lyrics, and sometimes the band was so loud that the vocals just got drowned out. I know I may be in the minority on this one, and it’s a small quibble because the band played great, but that was the one negative of the show.
Gambino was very gracious and seemed pretty amped to be playing Lollapalooza weekend. He did his best to keep the crowd going as the hour ticked toward one. That wasn’t an issue as I think most of the crowd would have followed him to the ends of the earth.
The thing that I like best about these Lolla aftershows is that everyone is there for the music. It’s not like being at the Fest where some just have too much money and feel like spending a couple hundred bucks to drink beer and say “Who is this playing right now? Oh. Paper Diamond? Where are they from?” Instead of that I got to go see three shows that had crowds that love the artists and are on the same page as far as being quiet and not bothering anyone else. Honestly these past three shows, other than one small problem on Thursday, were as good as I could have hoped for.
When the encore started, Gambino came out by himself and did one acapella song before launching into Royalty songs with Steve G Lover. They did three songs just the two of them with music provided by a laptop before bringing the band back out to close the show.
The highlights of the set for me were: “Heartbeat,” “Bonfire,” and “You See Me” off Camp. His run through Cul de Sac was pretty awesome as he just tore through a few songs in a row. And of course the light show. At the time I found it a bit distracting, but now I can’t imagine it without the barrage of strobe lights and flashes of color.
If you missed out on this show and didn’t catch up with him at Lolla on Sunday night, you have some work to do. As someone who doesn’t generally hit rap shows, I’d recommend like-minded individuals to check him out. If you’re already a fan but haven’t seen him, you won’t be disappointed.