A rapidly dialed phone, the pulse of a busy signal, and the electronic chatter of two modems talking: While most of the crowd was too young to know those sounds, it was an appropriate introduction for Childish Gambino, who brought his Deep Web tour in support of his recent album “Because the Internet” to the sold-out Fillmore Silver Spring on Tuesday night.
Childish Gambino is the pseudonym of Donald Glover, an actor, writer and comedian probably best known for his role on NBC’s “Community,” a high-profile gig he gave up last year to focus on other endeavors, musical and otherwise. “Because the Internet,” released in December, is an ambitious concept album about life in the digital age, and while Glover’s reach sometimes exceeds his grasp, it is deeply confessional and sonically experimental.
Casually dressed in shorts, sneakers and a sweater, the dynamic Glover paced, danced, duckwalked and bounced across the stage; even when standing still, he seemed to be vibrating with raw energy. To bring the densely layered album to life, Glover relied on a full band whose amped-up arrangements were reminiscent of rap-rock. But no matter how energetic and precise his performance — whether he was rat-a-tat rapping or heart-on-sleeve crooning — Glover’s voice was often lost in the mix. (The worst occasion was when he was forced to slug it out with a guitar solo.)
As Glover worked his way through “Because the Internet,” the gentler, R&B-influenced songs outstripped the darker, rap-laced ones; he’s more effective when he’s singing “love me better, kiss me back, listen more” than when he’s firing out bombastic braggadocio. The youthful crowd didn’t seem to mind either way, chanting every word with raised arms and pumping fists.
After exhausting his new material, Glover left the stage; the crowd seemed to be expecting an encore rather than demanding one. Their energy was reignited when a campfire appeared on screen, a nod to Glover’s 2011 album “Camp,” and he returned to the stage, sweaterless and dripping sweat. Just as energetic as he was at the top of the set, Glover performed a medley of about 10 fan favorites, and even though the audience was hungry for more, he admitted that he didn’t have much material left to play.
Instead, Glover launched into a freestyle session, which was an impressive display that nevertheless went on for too long. After more than an hour on stage, he ended the night with “Bonfire,” an antagonistic song that closes with the lyric, “I’ll give you all of me until there’s nothing left.” After his performance, the lyric felt like a mission statement — no matter what form his creative output takes.
Kelly is a freelance writer.