Live Shots: Childish Gambino and Danny Brown at the Fox

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It can be hard to take comedians and comic actors seriously as musicians. Particularly when you consider the questions posed by earlier models. Did Eddie Murphy’s girl really want to party all the time? (And if so, why didn’t he?)

In his last few albums as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover, the writer-actor best known for portraying lovable goof Troy Barnes on NBC’s cult sitcom Community, has combated the typical skepticism with a self-aware, post-Kanye confessional style of hip-hop. His show at the Fox in Oakland last Thursday made it clear that no matter how funny Childish Gambino’s lyrics are, as a performer, he’s serious.

Glover’s opener for the night was Detroit’s Danny Brown, whose latest release on Fool’s Gold Records, XXX, has been billed as an obscene concept album. It’s not the most thought-out idea, though, and lacking the inventiveness of concepts like Deltron 3030, Madvillainy, or Dr. Octagonecologyst, it seems more of an excuse to revive a 2 Live Crew Style of hedonism. (A common topic for Brown is eating pussy, and the MC, amusingly, has a habit of sticking his tongue out for emphasis.)

There’s definitely a perverse humor at work, but with lyrics like “Fuck bitches like AIDS don’t exist, I’m a young ruthless nigga on some Eazy-E shit,” your mileage may vary.

As with OFWGKTA, it can be hard to tell where the joke begins and ends, and as Brown’s DJ repeatedly played a “Swag!” vocal sample, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was done ironically. But Brown’s voice – like a strange hybrid of Dr. Octagon and Larry Blackmon – has a unique trill to it and an appealing cadence, and from the start of his set there were noticeably quite a few people in the front row mouthing along and shaking the floor boards like they didn’t give a fuck.*

Brown finished his set noticeably tired, which is understandable, since the Fox is a large venue for a solo rapper to energize. At one point I had the same concern with Childish Gambino, but Glover was backed by an impressive band.**

It wasn’t a surprise, as my expectation had been primed from videos of the first week of Coachella, where Glover gave a lively, physical performance despite wearing a large black boot on one leg, stemming from a fractured foot that caused him to cancel performances earlier in the year.

At the Fox there was no boot in sight, and Glover appeared entirely unburdened, bounding around the stage, breaking out a silly step between verses, and generally hyping the crowd up as he split his time performing tracks mainly from last year’s Camp and 2010’s Cul-de-sac, with a confidence that seemed well beyond the few tours he had under his belt.

Combined with a slick stage production – consisting of some minimal pup-tent/tree decorations and well timed, follow-along visuals – Glover seemed entirely in control of the show, which managed to come off as intimate and sincere. If it is a joke, I get it.

Setlist:
-Outside
-Fire Fly
-Freaks and Geeks
-Do Ya Like
-Backpackers
-I’m On It
-I Be On That
-Rolling in the Deep (Adele cover/John Legend version)
-All The Shine
-LES
-Heartbeat
-You See Me
-Bonfire
-Sunrise
Encore
(Freestyles)
-That Power
-Lights Turned On

*Although, one of the guys that seemed to know all the lyrics was also wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. So there’s that.
**One of the members – alternating between keys, guitar, and violin – looked particularly familiar, until I recognized him as the impressively talented Ray Suen, who performed with the Flaming Lips at Bimbo's.