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Donald Glover vs the Newcastle community

From floating high in the rap rafters of elation to a swift nosedive into the bowels of despair.

This is what Childish Gambino fans experienced in Newcastle last night.

So what happened exactly at the Cambridge Hotel on the first day of October? How did one of the most anticipated shows in recent memory go completely pear-shaped?

After a smokin’ hip hop set from the always impressive DJ Skoob, an assortment of comfy antique furniture was brought on stage, giving the Cambridge’s stage a homely, intimate atmosphere.

Then an assortment of rappers appeared. The man of the hour, Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover, was amongst them, jumping behind the decks for the first few tunes. He was surrounded by the artists that make up his Royalty crew, who may or may not be named after Chris Brown’s daughter. They guest on his track ‘AssShots (Remix)’. The group includes Donald’s brother Steve G. Lover, his manager and chief advisor F.A.M., his photographer friend Ibra Ake, and Swank.

But the stage became even more crowded. There were also audience members, plucked from over the barricade with beaming smiles, to give the show a party atmosphere. Gambino greeted the audience, dropped some beats and his friends rapped some fresh flows. Then a DJ took over and Gambino simply watched his friends rap while he stood at the back of the stage and puffed on what may or may not have been a funky cigarette.

These festivities came across as an informal start to the show and the audience was immediately on board, jumping and dancing along. With audience members on stage alongside a group of his friends bouncing off each other’s fresh flows, it felt like the sold-out crowd had been invited to a party at Don’s house. It was fun and, at this point, the atmosphere was electric. However, that energy was peaking because the crowd believed a long evening of tasty Childish Gambino treats was just around the corner. When Glover removed his jacket and dropped his tune ‘Retro’, it appeared the “real show”, the one everyone had handed over $65 to see as if their very soul’s salvation depended on it, was now underway.

After ‘Retro’, Gambino and his posse of rappers dropped another of his tunes, the aforementioned ‘AssShots (Remix)’. This version of the track was released on his STN MTN mixtape and is a fun song about dancing.

At this point the show started to turn. The audience had become impatient, perhaps realising that what was unfolding on stage was not entirely what they had paid for.

It’s like this: imagine opening a packet of corn chips to find it 60 per cent empty. You can enjoy the few corn chips on offer but can’t shake the feeling you’ve been deceived by either the person who sold you the packet or the person responsible for not filling it in the first place.

A tirade of song requests, accompanied by a few healthy boos and a chorus of “bulllllshiiit”, started to fly from the crowd. In an antagonistic move, Childish Gambino broke into the already performed track ‘Retro’. As the word “retro” is short for retroactive, this was actually both clever and cheeky. But that was probably not Gambino’s intention and the audience did not see the humour in it.

The booing increased and Glover seemed genuinely shocked that this was happening. For the half an hour up until this point he had appeared to be enjoying himself, despite not offering up many tasty tunes from his records.

Glover realised he was a long way from his hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. He was, in fact, right in the dead centre of “farkin’ Newie, bra”. Rather than flee, as I would have done, he kicked everyone off the stage, DJ included, and asked the crowd what song they wanted to hear. Someone made a request but he claimed not to have the relevant backing track with him and would need to play it off a phone. When the phone handed to him was locked, Gambino angrily returned the phone to said owner. A locked phone can be annoying, as you need to take the time to enter the relevant password. For a person with no thumbs or index fingers, this could be an understandable annoyance. But that does not apply to Glover.

As the booing continued, rather than flee, he broke into a sweet a cappella. The man indeed has a beautiful singing voice, but its merit as a defense mechanism is yet to be proven on crowds the size of that packed into the Cambridge. In a one-on-one situation, sure, his singing might calm a person down and make them forget why they were angry in the first place. But on more than 450 people? Not yet, Don. Not yet.

Gambino scurried away and “bulllllsshiiiiiiit” filled the air, as if all his Newcastle fans had morphed into a raging horde of water buffalo. But this city has come a long way. Rather than riot as patrons of the Star Hotel did all those years ago in 1979, fans turned their anger inward – specifically, inside their phone. On Facebook and Twitter.

All the reasons for the unexpected performance are not yet known. Was it pitched incorrectly to the promoters who brought it to Newcastle? Was it deceptively advertised? Did Donald Glover make a last-minute decision to do a Royalty show with his mates instead of the hit-laden Childish Gambino performance the audience was expecting? Right now it is all speculation, pure and simple.

No, it was not the Childish Gambino show that Newcastle had hoped for, perhaps only because of a series of simple miscommunications. He may return to make amends, he may not. Either way, everyone in attendance witnessed a night that will go down in Newcastle’s rich and enduring live history – even if it is for the wrong reasons.


Written by Nick Milligan