The balls of flame and walls of spark on the Honda stage during Childish Gambino’s set were far from the hour and a quarter’s most threatening elements. No piece of that moment in time, or Gambino’s psyche and body, were safe from challenge or skewer during Governors Ball’s second night. Looking into his eyes, his joker-ish smile, his glee at his most disgusting moments, Childish Gambino truly was as fascinating and unstable an element as his often self-gutting lyrics make him out to be. He prepared the audience well for the whiplash emotional ride of his set by beginning with an acapella rendition of the beginning of “Centipede” before launching into a goliath (full band) run of “Crawl.”
Gambino / Glover put himself through a number of performance hurdles that let him test the shark-waters of failure that he so nakedly wades through in his music. As if his stream-of-embarrassed-and-embarrassing-consciousness lyrics weren’t enough, Gambino decided with almost rehearsed relaxation to spit a quick freestyle. He’s a veteran of the art, but doing so on a festival stage is unexpected from anyone (outside of SuperNat) and wholly commendable. During the freestyle, Gambino opened a vein as he so often does on record, speaking to his nerves about being placed in the same time slot as The Strokes. That soul bearing quickly lead to a victorious place, though, finding Gambino boasting about the crowd he pulled in spite of the odds. The triumph continued through the verses: “They’re mad because I got to Chance first!” he spit off the top of his head, somehow devising some true-to-life commentary at a moment’s notice.
Gambino’s bond with Chance would be on further display just minutes later when the shirtless oddball arrived on stage to do an instrumentally-improvised version of “Favorite Song.” What happened next was the true highlight of the set, and perhaps the day as a whole. Chance, who is “featured” on “The Worst Guys” from Gambino’s Because The Internet (appearing only on the one-line chorus) decided to unleash his witty and wicked guest verse for the track for the Governors Ball crowd. It’s the same verse that we heard him drop randomly on a Toca Tuesday a while back, but it’s far less wonky-sounding here. It was also particularly fitting for Gambino’s set: Chance found himself spitting his lines about how her mama “tried to André Benjamin me” just a few feet from André himself. The moment tightened the laces on two generations of pioneers for intimate hip-hop, and it got the crowd (especially women) going and then some.
The Gambino festivities ended with the snarling, offensive, and, when played by this live band, downright epic “Bonfire.” This was an act beyond simply gassing the party-fire he’d steadily kept rolling throughout his set, it was a move of middle finger-ism, a final, blistering show of shamelessness emerging from a cloud of doubt and doubters.