Early in his complex and impressive 80-minute performance on Wednesday, Childish Gambino told 15,000 fans packing the TD Garden that they had bought a ticket to his “last tour ever.”
The claim sounded believable only because Gambino’s retirement would hardly put a dent in the career of his creator, Donald Glover. Aside from singing and rapping as the Grammy-nominated Childish Gambino, Glover is also a popular Hollywood actor (“Spider-Man,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”), a lauded TV show creator and writer (“Atlanta,” “Community, “30 Rock”), and a beloved stand-up comedian.
Glover’s broad base has allowed him to release more idiosyncratic music than most Garden-packing performers could dare. Onstage, he pushed the envelope from the start, opening with a long, unreleased new song, “Algorythm.” Standing motionless at the end of a runway by a single vertical laser beam, the bare-chested singer let a recording of his voice deliver a slow, gospel-y melody for well over two minutes before he finally jerked to life with a fast-paced rap.
“This is not a concert; this is a church,” he explained afterward, promising a performance with no simple pleasures.
Even so, as with every Glover venture, pleasure was definitely part of the mix. Although the artist’s intricate raps were garbled by the arena’s inevitable echo, his thin high vocals held strong on selections from his 2016 retro-funk album, “‘Awaken My Love.’” And Glover’s dancing, the varied video projections and lighting, and the expert live band hidden deep at stage left helped most numbers hit an endorphin center.
But they also gave the show a veneer of multimedia performance art, with disturbing contradictions underlying the infectious grooves and pretty melodies.
“You should light a joint for this one. I want you feeling good,” Glover said before “Feels Like Summer.” The entrancing recording could stand as a companion to Marvin Gaye’s classic “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” if the global warming message weren’t so smoothly buried into the song’s easy groove. But submersion is also the point. Live, the number featured hazy video images of skyscrapers and palm trees, whose leaves burst into flames in the last verse. The main set closed with the 2018 rap hit “This Is America,” one of the most talked-about singles (and videos) of the year. As it ended, Glover left the stage while the predominantly white audience sang back its chorus with joyful abandon, “Get your money, black man!”
In a 45-minute opening set, Atlanta-based duo Rae Sremmurd ably and amiably represented the strip-club side of the trap music sound that Glover explores in his “Atlanta” TV series.
With Rae Sremmurd
At TD Garden, WednesdayFranklin Soults can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fsoults.