OKP Exclusive: Erykah Badu x Childish Gambino Rock The Greek Theatre Live In The Bay [Full Recap + Photo Gallery]
Photos by Ashleigh Reddy, words by Paul Clabourne Pennington, Jr.
The pairing of Erykah Badu and Childish Gambino may seem odd to some, but their convergence at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California this past weekend was nothing short of complementary. Superficially, the two couldn’t bring together a more diverse crowd. Anxious teens stood amongst their more seasoned twenty-something counterparts as the “we’ve been here before”-type attitude of the Reagan Babies rounded everything out. Withstanding the occasional festival, it’s not often that we find these collectives occupying the same musical space, but then, of course, how often do we get Childish Gambino and Erykah Badu? Strange bedfellows or no, all that mattered was what happened on the stage.
Gambino wasted little time, jumping right into “Crawl,” a demonstrative track that lent itself well to the live setting. Taking cues from the EDM playbook, the song was reconstructed as an auditory roller coaster, giving way to a more tempered sound before dropping the beat in its entirety, all orchestrated by Gambino. Needless to say, it worked. Two minutes into the concert and the crowd had already lost its proverbial cool. Bouncing off of one another, spitting every single word, instantly the audience had become just as committed as the evening’s MC. Gambino himself plays an interesting character onstage. Unlike his offstage persona, mild-mannered Donald Glover, Gambino is unbridled in front of a crowd. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like an act as much as an extended version of himself. It’s aggressive, but in an authentically awkward sort of way. Between running across the stage, he took to quite literally humping a speakerbox. It was somewhere between comical and cool, bringing together both sides of the rapper-slash-actor.
Assisting in this unique concert experience was a band that matched Gambino’s intensity, highlighted by a surprisingly effective string section. Those strings are what turned an otherwise raucous affair into something considerably more mellow. This was best showcased on his casual strolls through “Urn” and “The Palisades.” Both allowed Gambino to play the role of balladeer, through which he flexed his endearing vocals atop lush melodies and jazzy arrangements. Acknowledging this shift in moods, Gambino brought the crowd back to its original state by jumping into“3005″–his biggest record to date–before concluding his run with the Bay-friendly, “Telegraph Ave.” The song, a not-so-subtle nod to Oakland, was a fitting end to the set, bringing the rapper full circle, thrashing about on stage with a crowd spitting right back at him word-for-word. It was like looking into a mirror.
It’s important to acknowledge here the amount of love shown to Childish Gambino by that Berkeley crowd. You don’t typically see such fanfare before the actual headliner comes out. That says a lot about Gambino, but even more about Erykah Badu, who had earned the right to follow his headline-worthy with an act another notch above ‘top-billing’. Badu has this personalized set of eccentricities, musical and otherwise, that have surrounded her with an aura that is all her own. Not to get too deep about it, but there’s something about her that captures fans in a fashion that borders on religious fervor. As the band began to play “20 Feet Tall,” Badu took her place on the stage, stopping to raise both arms in a triumphant pose, holding it with no much as word. The crowd simply lost it. Without opening her mouth, Ms. Badu had already captured the audience. From there, she ran through hit after hit reminding us of why she was still just as relevant as ever, despite the fact that “On & On” and “Apple Tree” are older than half of the kids that made it out that night. Showing her sense of history, Badu cut away during “Love of My Life (Ode to Hip-Hop)” allowing for her dancers to do what they do atop some classic breakbeats provided by her resident DJ. Hip-Hop was definitely in the building and everyone appreciated it as such. Further reminding us that this hip-hop shit don’t stop, Badu and the band broke out into the melody from A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Bonita Applebum” before doing a full on cover of RAMP‘s “Daylight.” As if the moment could get any sweeter, Badu then parlayed this into Yarbrough & Peoples “Don’t Stop The Music,” a nod to two Common-assisted joints, the aforementioned “Love of My Life” as well as “All Night Long,” from the rapper’s 1997 LP One Day It’ll All Make Sense. The set ended with Badu ripping into “Tyrone” with a veracity all-too-familiar to deadbeat babydaddies. She attacked the track with the same fierceness she hit us with when we first heard that live version back in ’97. And just like back then, I cringed, if only for a second, when she said the name “…Paul.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like she was talking to me. That’s the Badu effect, I suppose. During this trip down memory lane, the songstress also reminded us of her endless vocal abilities, stretching out her runs further than perhaps even she expected. As the song ended, Badu hit us with that same commanding pose, before diving into the outstretched arms of the Greek Theatre’s closest residents. The fans loved her and she loved them right back with nothing standing between artist and audience.
And that’s exactly the point; the reason this sort of concert works has little to do with demographics and everything to do with approach to the craft. Regardless of your background, there was undeniable energy in that crowd that fed off of the authenticity of both artists. In an industry wighted down by conformity, they are the outliers, the mavericks. Your average rapper isn’t running around, simulating sex in an old t-shirt and shorts. Your average singer isn’t playing with tuning forks whilst singing in one the biggest hats I’ve ever seen. Regardless of the medium, these are two artists that seem to express themselves in the most honest ways possible. It makes the people that listen to their music more than simply fans, but appreciators of their humanity and what that represents. It is, as the poet once spoke, “deeper than rap.” It’s the reason that Erykah can still headline shows with no album out and it’s the reason that Childish Gambino can still sell out shows even though he’s also a “funny guy.” Their honesty is simply unmatched and that is why they can share a stage. Despite what some may think, Erykah and Gambino are one in the same. Everything else is just superficial. – Paul Clabourne Pennington, Jr.