"First time in Pittsburgh. We gotta do this right!" Childish Gambino proclaimed early to the packed crowd at Stage AE.
And did he ever.
The 28-year-old rapper stopped at the indoor venue Monday night on his "Camp" tour, touting his debut studio album of the same name. Also beloved as Troy Barnes on NBC's "Community," Childish Gambino (whose real name is Donald Glover) has a frenetic energy on stage, and like any good artist, he demands the audience keep up with him.
It wasn't hard. He exploded on stage with the overture "Outside" and checked off half the album, including "Heartbeat" and "Bonfire," as well as songs from earlier releases and a few tracks from his new Internet release. Throwing in a sample of John Legend's "Rolling in the Deep" cover and a little freestyle, Childish Gambino left no question as to the breadth of his talent.
The rapper is known for his smart lyrics and clever wordplay, but none of that works without his alternating bravado and sincere vulnerability that makes "Camp" so listenable.
He played both expertly by turns, annexing the stage then slowing down, standing still at the microphone. On "Freaks and Geeks" and "You See Me," lyrics towered above him on a giant screen. On the lovely "All That Shine," it turned into a starry sky and he shelved the swagger for a moment, letting his voice carry the tune.
Childish Gambino was accompanied by a full band, including a violin on a few songs. The level of musicianship and the synthetic summer camp spruce trees aren't found at many hip hop shows. Thankfully, his creative spirit was everywhere, in keeping with the album's theme.
There was only a single misstep early on when the band briefly lost the beat. They quickly recovered, and the audience didn't seem to notice.
During one moment, four points of light focused on him, forming a crown in the fog. It's clear Childish Gambino isn't the king of rap, but he's definitely one of its most honest, most worthy princes.
Detroit rapper Danny Brown opened the evening with a few standout beats, but his performance was missing the originality and charm everyone had come to see.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-253-1944.