You can’t escape at a music festival when you’re a live performer. Sure, you can throw in some tracking and maybe pull in a backing singer or two to beef up the top end, but ultimately, if you don’t have the goods, it will become obvious very quickly. I’ve seen countless acts collapse under the weight of expectation on a stage designed to cater to tens of thousands of people, but the renewed Childish Gambino is not one of them. Since blowing the minds of everyone that hasn’t heard a Parliament Funkadelic or Sly and The Family Stone record last year with his tantalising Awaken, My Love!, the pressure was on to see if Donald Glover the triple threat (or perhaps quadruple now that he’s also directing) could deliver. Up at Falls Festival in Byron Bay, Glover was onstage at 12:01am on January 1st. That’s a big ask of anyone, especially someone whose new material has just upped the ante in both octaves and decibels. Thankfully, he was up to the task.
Fans of Childish Gambino as a persona must have a hard time keeping track of who the guy actually is, with the performer now liable to change personalities with each album cycle. The difference was palpable in the midnight set, which ranged from pop ballads ‘3005’ and ‘Sober’ to the hyperkinetic ‘Sweatpants’ through to the renewed P-Funk and soul of Gambino’s latest outing. On record, it might come across as lip service, but on stage, it’s the real deal. You only have to see the way Glover and band attacked ‘Boogieman’, a rolling, syncopated gem ripped straight from the ’70s and plugged directly into the mainframe of the future. All the writhing and screaming and possession that comes with channelling Bootsy Collins, James Brown, D’Angelo and Prince and still leaving room for dessert and frankly, it was joyous to behold. The band may be session players, but they don’t feel like they’ve been dialled in just to make a statement. More likely, it’s the product of hundreds of hours of jamming, so that there’s a suite of songs like this which sound tight, yet feel limber.
Obviously ‘Redbone; is the big hit here, but it’s also the outlier of the record of which ‘Boogieman’ is a far better representation. It does’t just kick, but it’s also suitably weird at a time when even those veering off the straight and narrow still play it safe. A true album track, it’s not here to win over your radio but go for your hips, with a big shout chorus and a bass line that refuses to quit. The track continually changes tack, moving in and out of new sections that have totally different progressions with supreme ease. The little flourishes really make this track sing, from Glover’s maniacal ad libs to the fluttering Fender Rhodes notes that see out each section. It’s a thick, full sound and a remarkably complex adventure for someone who, although a cult hero, is nonetheless a pop star. If this is where music is going in 2017, let’s get our dancing shoes on.