by Paige Ardill
I don’t consider myself a religious person, spiritual maybe, but not religious. That being said, when I was a child I still went to church most Sundays. If I’m being honest, I went mostly for the post-service snacks, but in retrospect, I was also always intrigued by the service, not necessarily because of the message, but because of the impact it had on the people around me. Somewhere between the donut holes and the altar, in between organ chimes and choral harmonies, a space was created for the hopeful and the hopeless to let down their guard and connect both with the people around them and the intangible. I remember watching people put their arms up, grasping towards the sky with their eyes shut reaching for something that I could not see. Out of faith, out of love, out of desire for some sort of closeness I did not understand at the time, I found it interesting to watch the adults around me, so driven by fact and truth in their everyday lives, allow themselves to be so vulnerable around a bunch of strangers. Every week I asked myself, “what are they reaching for?”, “what are they feeling?”, and “why”?
Skip forward a few years, past my discovery of Camp, Community and a variety more of Donald Glover’s extensive talents, I would consider myself an avid fan – both of his work and of him. Come September 12th, Boston area Childish Gambino (and Rae Sremmurd) fans made our way to TD Garden awaiting what we would later find out to be one of his last concerts. If this is in fact the case, no rock was left unturned, no word was left unspoken.
The show began in darkness with a bright beam of light pulsating where Childish Gambino stood, alone. A familiar backing vocal sang “As we stand together / Promise me / That we’ll teach the children / That we must be free” to signal the beginning of his new song ‘Algorythm’ before an explosion of lights and a ripple of bass permeated the audience. Dressed in linen pants and beads, Childish Gambino made the stage his chancel, and the stadium our sanctuary. “You bought a ticket to the last Childish Gambino tour ever,” he said, urging the audience to lower their phones, “This is not a concert, this is motherfucking church.” The audience roared. In waves, the stands dimmed of their cellular glow. “People come here alone and that’s some brave shit,” Gambino preached. The screens showed the audience, hands high in the air, eyes shut and bodies writhing as he transitioned from his spiritual council into ‘I. The Worst Guys’ and ‘II. Worldstar’. Quiet contemplation quickly became uproarious excitement.
As the show progressed, Glover kept a curated balance of who he once was and who he was becoming, allowing the audience to step into his mind and experience the show with him rather than making it about him. I had gone to see ‘IV. Sweatpants’ Childish Gambino, I had bought tickets to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs and dance until my feet were numb, but instead I found myself at a spiritual crossroads. The stadium went dark as ‘Terrified’ began to play. The synthetic drum beat made my chest vibrate as his falsetto lingered, floating up to the balcony where I sat intently. Beams of light shot up, diagonally, above our heads, the colors bleeding into one another like a rainbow melting, dripping down from the sky. In that moment, I understood. In that moment, somewhere up in the nose bleeds, all of my questions from so many years ago were answered. In that moment, nearly 20,000 people became a part of something greater, something closer, something visceral. With our hands in the air, and the bass vibrating our bodies, we reached for something we knew we could not touch, but we could feel it, deep within. We could feel strength. We could feel community. We could feel love.
Now, of course that could just be my personal experience of it, a ‘Come to God’ moment, carefully placed between my favorites of his repertoire. Still, as the show ended with the politically jolting ‘This is America’ and a rowdy encore, something lingered. It was as though a raging storm had just broken, leaving behind nothing but a comforting silence and a breath of new air.