I hadn’t seen I Fight Dragons on tour since Warped Tour three or four years ago (I missed an opportunity to see them at MagFest a couple years ago), but I really enjoyed that set and I’ve been enjoying their work on their new album. They’ve been sharing the progress of songs from acoustic roughs to rhythm roughs, and so on. It’s been a lot of fun to see how the songs evolve. Tickets were only $15 and it was at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore, so I figured I’d go check it out.
For quite some time now I’ve really been enjoying discovering new, local bands by getting there when the show starts and this show did not disappoint. The Baltimore locals in Rare Candy were the opening band. They do rock covers of old video game music. The set opened with Mario castle music and ended with an amazing cover of music from Donkey Kong Country. I ended up nabbing their CD that had the most games I enjoyed from my childhood including Mario Kart, Sonic 2 and 3, Chrono Trigger, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario World. I’ve got a few different video covers that I’ve bought over the years from bands like Tanuki Suit Riot or The Oneups. Each one brings a slightly different interpretation to the cover. What I enjoyed the most about Rare Candy was their rock sensibility. In fact, this is one of those times where I enjoyed the live set more than the well-mastered CD. The guitars (rhythm and bass) both took center stage at the concert and really just added a deep menace to the Mario castle songs. It was a LOT of fun.
The next group was a rap group that I didn’t enjoy, but part of that was just the mix making it a bit hard to follow all the lyrics. From what I could hear it sounded like they were doing some neat wordplay.
Then it was time for headliner #1: Mc Lars. For the most part, the only exposure I had to his music was Download this Song from a Nerdcore collection I got a few years ago and in the I Fight Dragons concert video where he joined them on stage for The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth. I was impressed and entertained by Mc Lars. Like MC Frontalot (and unlike MC Plus+), his rhymes seemed to celebrate geekiness and spread a general positivity. Sure, to some degree the posturing of Mc Plus+ and SpamTec is more in the spirit of the branch of rap that is about machismo and declaring that you’re awesome and everyone else sucks.
But I find that to be tiresome and I tend to listen more often to more positive tracks. So it was a relief that MC Lars just wanted everyone to have a good time. I didn’t know he had a song about Edgar Allan Poe, but it was pretty appropriate to be in Baltimore for that one. The highlight of his set was when he had a skanking (ska dancing) contest on stage in which no one really lost. He ended up giving everyone at least a CD for participating and the winners (there were four) got t-shirts.
Then it was finally time for the band I came there to see – I Fight Dragons. They had a killer set – I enjoyed it a lot more than their set at Warped Tour. Part of that was because for Warped Tour they were on the stage where each band gets half an hour. Here they did more like 45 minutes or so. The set was a great mix of their music from their earliest stuff through to a song from the new (as yet unreleased) Patreon album and some B-Sides from The Near Future. The energy was great and it was a tiny club where anywhere in there was a great place to be standing. As I predicted to some Lars fans I met there, MC Lars joined them for The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth. But the best part for me was when they officially ended their set with The End from The Beatles Abbey Road album. It provided a chance for the drummer to have an AWESOME drum solo and it was the perfect song to end the set with. Plus, while the original version is great, it works well with a harder rock set of instruments. Then they did a couple encores which was really great – especially since lead singer Brain Mazzaferri’s vocal cords were giving out since we were the last stop on the tour. It really showed the band giving their all to their fans. I appreciate them even more for it.
Overall, it was a great concert. I recommend the Metro Gallery as a great venue because no matter if you’re at the stage or in the back you’re not very far from the stage at all. (However, because it is so small, you probably want to wear some ear protection – even if you plan to be in the back) I’ll probably end up checking out some more of MC Lars’ stuff and I’ll be keeping an eye on Rare Candy.
Concerts are certainly a funny bit of entertainment. When you go see a movie, you are going because you like the director or the actors or the idea sounded interesting. You see that movie and that’s the end of it. The same holds true for Broadway shows or Operas. But when you attended a concert, you have a few opening acts you probably don’t know. This is somewhat alleviated nowadays for the well prepared by a quick trip to Spotify or Youtube. After finally seeing The Protomen during last year’s Warped Tour, I was excited about seeing them in concert. My ticket informed me that I’d also be seeing Cowabunga Pizza Time and Lionize. Of course, the difference between concerts and other forms of entertainment is no accident. Opening bands are limpets on the bodies of larger acts, hoping to gain exposure to the fans of the main act. This works best when the organizer has paired up bands that work well together thematically. But, this is the obvious reason why you never know the time the main act is going on stage.
I tried to find Cowabunga Pizza Time on Spotify, but they weren’t there. I did find them on Youtube, but they were not my cup of tea. That worked out well for me because it meant I didn’t have to inhale my food in order to get to the concert on time. I looked for Lionize on Spotify and either through some error on that day or because they didn’t have the rest up yet, the only album I found was a reggae album. They sounded OK, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d bother catching their set. Luckily for me, I ended up getting to the club as Cowabunga Pizza Time was ending (yup, didn’t like their music live, either) and as Lionize was starting. I REALLY enjoyed Lionize.
I have a hard time explaining exactly what Lionize sounds like, but in my head there are all these connections to other bands that refuse to come to the forefront. The best I could come up with is that the band sounds to me like a great 1970s Rock band, probably because of the Wah Wah Synths they make use of. Because I knew I would have a hard time describing the band’s sound, but enjoyed them so much that I ended up buying the album, I asked the band for permission to post a couple tracks from their latest album (at the time – I think a new one’s about to come out), Jetpack Soundtrack. Here’s the song that I think best encapsulates their sound and what I’m trying to convey:
Last year I read How Music Works and it changed the way I viewed concerts. Part of the author’s point was that it is only in recent times that we expect musicians to sound like their albums when we see them live. Instead, we should cherish the live act for what it can give us – spontaneity and a connection with other fans. I hadn’t heard Lionize before the concert (at least not the songs on their set list), but I dare say they’re one of the few bands who sounds better live than they do in the studio. I don’t know if it’s the genre of 70s Rock or just the songs Lionize chose to play, but they lend themselves to riffing and solos that work best in a live environment. Some of the songs that sounded terrific live include Replaced by Machines and Amazing Science Facts.
Lionize keyboard player
Lionize lead singer
Even though the thought of going to see a reggae band didn’t fill me with enthusiasm, one of my favorite songs from Jetpack Soundtrack the reggae-inspired Sea of Tranquility. It’s reggae-inspired in a similar way to how D’yer Maker by Led Zepellin has some reggae inspiration.
Of course, the main reason for my attendance that night was to see The Protomen.
When it comes to The Protomen, it’s really hard to say if I find it more enjoyable to listen to the CDs or attend a concert. As I said above, they’re two different things – as different as a book and its movie or TV show adaptation. But when it comes to The Protomen, each of their albums with original material (as opposed to their cover albums) is a concept album that tells an adaptation of the story from Mega Man. I had been hoping that in their own concert (as opposed to at Warped Tour) they’d go through one whole album as their set. Alas, the songs were random and contained both covers and original material. Yet, because of the intensity of the story behind the songs, particularly the one where Doctor Wiley riles up a crowd to demand execution of Doctor Light (The Hounds on the Act II album) are incredibly amazing when the entire club demands to know “WHAT WAS HER NAME?” Light up the Night is also particularly awesome (literally) in a club full of fans singing along and pumping their fists. I continue to hold out hope that when the third album in the Mega Man trilogy is released that they’ll do a special show in which they sing the entire trilogy. I also think that it would make a pretty great Broadway show – it would certainly be different than the usual fare.
Although it’s not exactly rare for me to discover new bands that I enjoy when I see the opening acts at a concert, it’s certainly a great treat and win for all involved. Lionize gained a new fan and I gained a new band to watch and see in concert – perhaps one day as the top billing. And I got to see the great stage show that is a concert by The Protomen.
I’ve been a fan of Weird Al for about 17 years. I used to have the Disney special Weird Al Going Home, but unfortunately, I lent it to someone and never got it back. Yet, in all the time, I’d never seen a Weird Al concert live. Finally, Weird Al came to Baltimore as part of his Mandatory Fun Tour and I was able to experience an Al Tour. It was a pretty neat experience. It’s only something like the fourth arena concert I’ve been to (even thought it wasn’t technically in an arena). The last arena concert I went to was Rihanna. Interestingly, Weird Al had WAY more costume changes than she did. He had just about one outfit per song with few exceptions. While he was changing, clips played from nearly every video Weird Al has ever been involved in.
The best part of the concert was that he played at least one song from each of his albums. I got to hear all my favorites live, which was quite a treat. Who would have thought he’d still be singing Fat all these decades later?
Going back to the fact that this is only about the fourth arena concert I’ve been to, I’ve mostly been going to concerts in clubs. That’s partly because I tend to like more obscure bands like The Protomen and I Fight Dragons. And partly because even bigger bands like Anberlin (who played Madison Square Garden for two consecutive nights on their farewell tour) aren’t going to draw enough fans to fill an arena. Having done both fairly recently (Anamanaguchi vs Weird Al), I have to say that I prefer the club atmosphere. There’s something about the band being just a few feet away and the crowd pressing against you, belting out songs, that makes concerts worth attending. Meanwhile I leave most arena concerts thinking it’d be a better experience on my big screen TV at home. While I don’t regret seeing Weird Al live, it certainly didn’t feel as special as some of the smaller venues.
To keep things fresh, both for Al and ourselves, for some of his oldest songs, he did a Lounge Lizard medley. It was pretty fun to hear the songs this way – he should do an album release this way.
Here is a really short example from two songs:
Some more costume changes:
Appropriately enough, given 2015 is the year of Star Wars, he ended the night with a couple Star Wars songs.
Although he did start it off with a bizarre reference to an earlier joke:
Overall, it was a great experience and I think if he’s still performing when Scarlett’s a little older, I’ll take her.
Originally my first concert of 2015 was going to be a little later in the year, but with Danielle away for the weekend, the email letting me know about a concert in just a few days seemed quite fortuitous. I’d had a couple chances to see Anamanaguchi in concert, but the timing was never right. This time it was perfect – weekend and wife out of town. So I decided to go.
It was an interesting scene and an interesting concert. Lots of men with eyeliner and girls with blue lipstick and pig tails. But also people dressed like they were going to a rave, complete with glowstick fingers and people dressed like every other concert. The only negative was that there were four opening acts so while the show started at 2100, Anamanaguchi wasn’t up until 2300. The selection of opening acts was well-aligned given the sound of Anamanaguchi – pop, dance, and chiptunes. So they had lots of DJs open for them – some with more conventional dance music and some with more chiptunes music. But, given that Anamanaguchi plays with real instruments, I thought a better complement would be a band like I Fight Dragons.
Of the opening acts, I thought the best vibe came from the duo in which one of the guys had Skrillex hair. While others were grooving, these guys were jumping around and really having a good time. It made me want to have more of a good time, myself. I usually go to concerts with bands, so it was interesting to see the 2 two-man DJ groups at this concert. While I understood the gains from a two-man group – one can control the knobs while the other looks for the next sample and/or they can jump back and forth between their tastes, I’m more used to groups like the one between those two where it was a one-man DJ set.
Then came Anamanaguchi. I had a feeling for what they’d sound like live as I have their Live at the Knitting Factory album, but they weren’t nearly as chatty as they were on that album. I didn’t know this going into the concert, but it was the last show on their Endless Fantasy tour. So I don’t know if they were tired after a long tour or if the Knitting Factory album is just an unusually chatty set for them.
Since a good chunk of any song involves a lot more than the instruments, I was wondering how they were going to perform. Would they have a computer playing the music? So I was surprised to find 3/4 of the band come out with guitars or guitar-like instruments. From what I could tell, the guy in the middle with the white guitar-like instrument was playing the non-instrumentals. I’m not sure exactly what that meant – was he modulating a pre-recorded track? That seems to be the most likely scenario. But I’m not sure.
The most interesting aspect of the set was the video screen behind the drummer. Somewhere between a quarter and half of the bands I’ve seen perform use some kind of video in their performance. None have ever matched the trippiness of what Anamanaguchi had going on. For at least one of the songs (Pop It) the video was a remix of the music video. I’m not too familiar with most of their videos, so I can’t say if that holds true for the rest of the songs, but the overall feeling was that of a sentient Internet having seizures and displaying some representation of everything we geek out about. There was povray-looking 3D renders, clipart, anime, and VCR nostalgic recordings.
There was one seemingly over-zealous fan at the front who I wasn’t sure what to make of until the end of the night when I found out that this was the last stop on their tour and that guy had been on every stop on that tour.
Overall, I had a very good time and I was jumping and dancing and just enjoying the crowed vibe that is the entire point of going to a concert. It took me a while to warm up to the opening acts and I think that was only partly due to their unfamiliarity. I’d definitely go see Anamanaguchi again. Although, according to Wikipedia, their next album will be chiptunes-less. So I’ll have to see if I like the next album.
Sorry the photos weren’t so good, I only had my cell as my wife had the nice compact camera.
On 6 Nov I went to my 2013 concert. Because of time and money concerns, Danielle and I typically go to a maximum of two concerts a year, and usually just one concert. I was completely unable to resist seeing Five Iron Frenzy in their first tour since breaking up nearly a decade ago. I didn’t really care for Reel Big Fish and I hoped that Five Iron Frenzy would go first as Co-headliner so I could leave early. In fact, although being a fan of ska, the only Reel Big Fish song I’d ever heard was “Everbody’s Doin’ the Fish” because it was the Florida Marlins’ theme song for a season or two. A large part of that comes from the fact that when I got into ska, in the 1990s, I was only into Christian music to the exclusion of secular music – as was encouraged by my middle school church. (My high school church actually shied away from Christian music, which I thought was weird, considering how good it had gotten by the early 2000s) So I listed to Five Iron Frenzy, The OC Supertones, and The Skadaddles. This was going to be my first Five Iron Frenzy concert in nearly 15 years when I saw them at a festival in Florida (and actually filmed a pretty decent video bootleg)
It was an interesting Crowd at The Fillmore on Wednesday. Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish had their start in the 90s so many of the attendees were, like me, in their 30s (give or take 5 years). However, I overheard a rather young-looking girl next to me (I don’t think she had a 21 and up bracelet on) talking about how she heard about Five Iron Frenzy for the first time a couple years ago when someone at her church played a FIF song. She was crestfallen to find out the band had broken up. There were even younger-looking kids including one that looked to be around 11 or 12 that I’ll talk about later. I struck up a conversation with a woman who was near me who worked for the Patent Office. I’ve recently become “the man” as I’ve moved into management. It’s a strange crowd at the ska show given that both Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish dug deep into their catalog and some of those songs were strange coming from our mouths. I’d been working on a blog post about punk rock (I could have sworn that I published it….it’s really bugging me that I can’t find it) and how strange the lyrics are coming from the mouths of 30 year olds instead of teens.
The opening act was Beebs and Her Money Makers (Stylized on their merch as Beeb$ and Her Money Maker$). I have not gone to anywhere near as many concerts as my brother, Dan of Nothing to the Table, but I’ve gone to enough of them to know that the opening act is often a huge gamble. I’ve seen crazy mismatches like rappers opening for hard rock music acts (I know there’s SOME crossover, but … yeah) and I’ve seen bands that are a match, musically, but just are NO WHERE near the level of the main acts. So I was shocked in a good way to see how enjoyable BAHMM was. I bought their brand new EP (not yet on iTunes, I was told) all of which was part of the set list that night. Here’s my favorite song so you can judge how they sound to your ears:
To my ears they sound like 90s ska, very much like the ska bands I love – No Doubt, Save Ferris, and the first few Five Iron Frenzy albums. But they weren’t only a great sounding band, they were a great PERFORMING band. Beebs had the tough job of warming up the still-entering crowd and she was able to lull us out of our opening band apathy. She asked us to dance a sort of ska shuffle and nearly everyone complied, even if some of them did it half-assed. She had an infectiously positive attitude embodied by her hips shaking to the beat. It was so iconic that Jeff the Girl (from Five Iron Frenzy) did the hip shake as Reese Roper rattled off the bands that had preceeded them). They even got me to love their ska cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, which Beebs dedicated to John Stamos of Family Matters. The two highlights for me were a song they did which I THINK was a cover. It had like 5 false endings and it was a bit harder rock than the rest of the ska set. Even though I didn’t know Reel Big Fish (as I mentioned above), one of the songs from the EP (produced by the Reel Big Fish lead singer) had him providing duet vocals with Beebs and the song was performed with a little extra vigor. Additionally, proving the entire purpose of going to a concert (vs listening to a live album), the crowd (half of which was there for RBF) went nuts over the singer’s appearance and that vibe energized all of us.
One of the best things about opening acts is that they’re able to socialize with the fans after their set. I’m sure it’s partially because you HAVE to be nicer when you’re coming up. But it’s probably also because the openers go on last and play for 60-90 minutes and need a break after their set. I’m not sure, but anyway, the band was at their merch table signing merch and giving hugs. I struck up a chat with the drummer, the horn player, and Beebs and found out they were from Orlando, Florida. It was neat to have that connection with them and we chatted a little about it. I ended up buying their EP and I’ll keep an eye out for them. I love the fun-loving style they have and would definitely see them as headliners – especially if they were touring with other 90s-sounding ska bands.
Beautiful Bodies was up next and they were the one band that didn’t fit in with the ska lineup. That’s OK because they had lots of moxie. The Beautiful Bodies lead singer reminded me of Buffy in her dancing and seems like it’d maybe have been a band at the Bronze (although one of the harder rocking bands, not the slow ballad bands). At the concert, the sound had a harsh, raw feel to it. I bought the EP because I’d been to enough concerts to know that it would be a smoother sound that I would enjoy more. It was indeed the case! Not that there’s anything wrong with the raw concert sound – I think it added immensely to the feel and provided a great reason to see them live. When we were listening to EP on the way to New York, Danielle said she thought we were listening to a new Paramore album. I thought there was something to the lyrics that reminded me of Avril Lavigne. I really hesitate to make the comparison because Avril always seemed like a poseur to me and Beautiful Bodies seems like the real thing, but, thematically, it flows along with a similar youth rebellion – although my memory tells me that Avril was like teen rebellion while Beautiful Bodies seems to be more of a 20s rebellion. Like, “I’m an adult, but I still call BS on the world and its social construct.” To my ears they have a great sound, I particularly like the singer’s voice. So it’ll be interesting to see how they grow musically and lyrically as they, and their base, ages.
Performance-wise, they nearly matched Beebs and Her Money Makers, but in their own way. Beebs was loud in a ska sort of way – with strangely dressed people taking the stage to skank with the band members. Beautiful Bodies, was more subdued in that sense, but was incredibly intense in their dancing and movements. Additionally, the lead singer went off the stage to interact with the crowd for about 3 songs out of the 5 song set. And boy did she interact. She climbed up on the fence-like thing that separates the crowd for the stage at The Fillmore and sang directly to various audience member.
Five Iron Frenzy started their set with Blue Comb ’78. It was an awesome vibe to hear everyone singing along right away. FIF played at least one song from each album, including many from the first two. I wonder how they chose to focus so heavily on the earlier catalog. Did they know those were fan favorites? And based on what research? Hearing people sing along? Last.fm scrobbles? Spotify royalties? Based on what I know about Five Iron Frenzy, it may have just been put together slap-dash.
Although both of the openers tried to get people to dance, it wasn’t until Five Iron Frenzy that the majority of the crowd began to skank, circle dance, and all other manner of body gyration. It was at this point that, to keep from crushing the woman in front of me, I had to grab the fence on either side and brace myself whenever things got wild. Given how rough things eventually got during Reel Big Fish, this was no easy feat. It was a nice gesture that, when it was all said and done, that woman thanked me for keeping her from getting dangerously crushed.
Overall, the set was a great nostalgia trip and well worth the money. However, FIF has more technical problems than any other band I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert where they didn’t have some sort of technical issue. The video bootleg I shot 15 years ago captured a long session where they couldn’t play because of technical issues. Here, for 2-3 songs in a row they had to stop for a few minutes after each song to deal with some issue. I think at least two times it was the guest guitar player who was having issues with his guitar. For banter during one of these malfunctions they mentioned our local team, the Washington Native Americans. (FIF has always been active in Native American rights issues)
It was interesting to see at the concert that FIF is now more like rock with horns while BAHMM is more like 90s ska.
After that, I had planned to leave, but I decided, “What the heck? I’ve already paid – I could always leave if Reel Big Fish sucks.” I was actually pleased with the music. Like Beebs, it hearkened back to a ska sound I really liked when I was in High School. Sure, some of the songs showed their age and immaturity, but a lot of them were good or at least had a skankable beat. They also had a few comedy bits, including one in which they played the same song over and over, but with a different sound to it – somewhat reminiscent of Five Iron Frenzy’s Pants Rock Opera. They also had a fun leadup to their song about alcohol by covering nearly every other song ever written about alcohol – boy there are a lot of those! The moshing, pushing, and crowd surfing kicked into high gear during the RBF set. It was hard not to be crushed from either side or from above.
If there’s one thing that’d always been a bummer at concerts, it’s that you had to take a bunch of cash because no one took credit cards. The iPhone has changed this completely. Thanks to those credit card attachments that I first experienced at last year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, I was able to get a CD from each band (except RBF). (Note:Beebs album has wrong song titles on tracks 3 and 4 – swapped)
If you’re taking concert photos professionally, you will get access to the pit area and will be able to photograph there for the first three songs. Put your camera into manual mode and, depending on the lighting, manual focus and try to get original and heartfelt shots. This blog post is for the rest of us.
First of all, unfortunately, you probably (MOST LIKELY) won’t be able to take your SLR and the lenses you’d need to properly photograph the event. The reason the photographers get to take photos for only the first three songs is to make sure they don’t disturb the people behind them so they aren’t going to take kindly to an amateur ruining things for others. At best you can bring in a premium point and shoot like the Canon S110 or G15. At worst you’ll be using your cell phone. The most important thing to know is that you need to turn off your flash and pump up your ISO. Anyone more than a couple rows back does not have a flash powerful enough to reach the stage and all you’ll be doing is lighting up the heads of the people in front of you.
So everyone you see shooting with flash is just getting really crappy shots while bothering everyone around them. In reality, the stage lights are enough to light up the performers. The reason to bump up the ISO is to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze up the performers. (Although there are times where you might want them blurred to capture the dynamism of the concert) Here are some examples of otherwise good photos made worse by too slow a shutter speed.
When things work out and you’re able to get the ISO high enough to get the action reasonable frozen, you can end up with reasonably good photos even if you’re far away. They won’t be amazing, but you’ll be able to remember the event and share the experience with other concert-goers and friends.
If you are in a venue where you’re standing and you can move around the stage, try to get different angles for your photos. Nearly everyone is going to be content with a straight-on shot so that’s BORING. You can get some neat shots from the side – usually only the band’s photographer can get shots like this:
Alternatively, get the shots that the pros do by getting right up on the stage:
Also, don’t forget to capture photos of the fans:
Finally, if you know the musician, you might be able to arrange from some special access shots before or after the show:
This was during a trip Danielle and I took to Philidelphia to see an Anberlin concert. We decided to also go ahead and see the sights. We saw the Liberty Bell in its new home, tried a real Philly Cheese Steak, and just enjoyed being somewhere else.
This photo is just a reminder that people won’t always say ‘no’ when you ask to take their photo. In his case, it’s because I really liked his uniform.
Monday night, as I walked to the Ram’s Head Live concert venue, I had no idea what to expect. Earlier in the year Daniel had retweeted some strange, witty tweets from some dude named Childish Gambino. Based on the name I thought it was some weird Italian joke tweet account. Then, a few months later, I joined tumblr after seeing Dan’s tumblr posts on his blog’s sidebar and determining there was some neat stuff going on there. That’s when I came across the site Hipster Childish Gambino and saw posts like these:
So I went to his website and he had just come out with an EP which he was making available for free on the web. I’ve spoken about this countless times, but most artists barely make any money from their music. They make their money from their merch and concerts. Well, Childish Gambino was the perfect example. His music was so awesome that when I looked on last.fm and saw that he was coming to town, I bought tickets. I can’t recommend the music to everyone because it’s quite vulgar. While he’s extremely lyrically gifted, his music seems to be a mix of bravado and vulgarity to separate himself from his television personality. (Kinda like Bob Sagat post-Full House) Not that he doesn’t have profound lyrics. One that always gets me every time I hear it is “I want to pick up the phone, ask my dad how to handle it, but what will happen when my dad’s not there to answer it.” But next to lyrics like “Fuck a bitch to pass the time”, I just can’t recommend it to too many people. In fact, his lyrics often sound like a series of awesome-sounding tweets or haikus, each awesome on its own, but with tenuous links to each other. I’m extremely curious to see where he goes from here. If there’s a theme to the EP it’s his fight for acceptance in the rap community. Going forward I think he either gains that acceptance or owns his niche and moves forward. Anyway, I’d like to see him tackle some different subjects.
As the concert approached, I found out it would be split between his standup as Donald Glover and his musical performance as Childish Gambino. I figured his standup would lean heavily on inside jokes for fans of Community, on which he appears. I decided it’d be worth weathering that half of the show to see him perform live. I’ve been listening to his music a lot with 36 plays logged on last.fm and a ton more listens at work and in the car. On the way to the concert I did my usual ritual of listening to the artists’ music to have the lyrics fresh in my mind. Surprisingly, the show started exactly on time. I’ve been to a fair amount of concerts and comedy shows and they usually start late. On top of that, they usually have an opener. Not Donald Glover – at least not in Baltimore. And that’s great because I usually hate hearing some no-name band.
Donald Glover started off with his standup routine. I don’t want to give away any of the jokes for any of the future tour stops. (Also, I don’t remember then well enough to do them proper justice) The important things to know are that it was very funny, had little to do with community outside of a joke or two, and was a multimedia tour. Donald is a geek and it shows – in a good way. He then transitioned to the music portion of the show.
Before the show started I’d noticed a bunch of instruments on the stage and pointed out to Dan that Childish Gambino might be one of those rappers who travels with a live band rather than a beat track. Dan was skeptical and posited it was the house set of instruments. Thankfully, Dan turned out to be wrong. Childish Gambino is one of those rare rap groups that actually sounds better live. I’ve been to rap concerts and I’ve heard them on SNL – 90% of the time, they SUCK. Rap has evolved since the 1980s to be so over-processed that it sounds like excrement when performed live. But Childish Gambino has at least one ace up his sleeve – he can actually sing! Unlike rappers who try horribly to sing or, worse, lean on the Auto-Tune crutch, Childish Gambino can hit the notes. I don’t think he’s as vocally talented as Cee-Lo, but he’s certainly in the same league. I could see Donald Glover having a third musical prong (in addition to MC DJ and Childish Gambino) where he sings like John Legend. He had four musicians on stage with him. On the left was a guy playing the keyboard, guitar, and some special effects/backing tracks of an apple laptop. The drummer was amazing. I’ll admit I haven’t experienced performances by the most gifted drummers, but this guy really blew me away – especially during his drum solo at the band introduction at the end. Next to him was another guy who played the guitar and steel garbage can, Stomp-style. Finally, there was a guy playing the violin and another set of drums. These instruments combined with Gambino’s style to produce a vibe that was closer to a rock concert than any rap concert I’ve ever witnessed. In the midst of some of the more intense songs, the violinist was playing the violin jumping around like he was thrashing an electric guitar.
Childish performed for an impressive ~1.5 hours. In fact, together with the standup, the entire show was nearly 2 hours long! His set (including the encore) included all the songs from his 2011 EP, the song Break, and some songs from Sick Boi and I am Just a Rapper. His lyrical style, as I mentioned above, made for an great call and response with the crowd where we essentially got to yell out the punchline to his incredibly clever lyrics.
Overall, Donald Glover has great stage presence. While telling his jokes and while rapping, he made sure to address everyone, even climbing on the amps to do so. I’ve seen too many artists and comedians just look out at the center for 80% or more of the show. But Glover made sure that everyone got his attention. The show was amazing and if he’s coming to your town you should definitely go out to see him. If you haven’t heard his music, he has it all available for free on the web. Get it, listen, and attend his show. I left the show feeling pumped. I could have gone for another hour if he’d continued rapping.