There are few things more numbingly familiar to a child of the internet age than the digital experience. The clicking of keyboard buttons, the harmonic hum of a device startup sound, the cold glow of a the whole word staring back at you from a portable screen- they have never known a world without these things. For the Reality Bytes Generation, the idea of community is being redefined with the power of social media.
Their particular brand of teenage angst is specific to the profound solitary loneliness of modern human connection- texting someone from the next room over, the glaring read receipt from an unanswered message, the unliked Facebook status. Our leaders of tomorrow are currently amongst millions of sad teens looking for validation and acceptance by sitting alone behind a computer screen. Few works of art have captured this phenomenon as well as Childish Gambino's Deep Web tour.
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A young sold out crowd at South Side Ballroom watched in awe last Friday as actor and comedian Donald Glover's rap alter ego transformed the stage into the digital experience. A netted black screen curtained the stage and a Deep Web black browser screen appeared. Kids stood shoulder to shoulder beneath the stage, gazing up at that familiar glow, logging on together. As it rose, it revealed a full band set up in what looked like the living room of Glover's Second Life avatar. The scene projected onto the stage backdrop was just the beginning in an evening of breathtaking web-centric visuals. A fireplace surrounded by towering Greek columns flickered with HTML-assisted embers, the mantle above it was adorned with various computer generated works of fine art (everything from intricate spirographs to MS Paint shapes). Pretty girls lounged on a couch above the DJ, occasionally walking across the backdrop lackadaisically in single file lines of three.
Though he's is a skilled and engaging performer, the visual element was just as much a character in this performance as Childish Gambino himself. Much like the internet, his surroundings responded to the emotional output he deposited. On a soulful vocal run, the screen dropped back down to reveal what can only be described as feeling meters. The header tag read "THIS MAKES ME FEEL:" above neon colored signal strength bars labeled "SOME TYPE OF WAY" and "HEART EYES EMOJI", their levels rose and fell as Glover crooned on. At the show's climax, his deep web safe space came crashing down around him as the towering columns exploded one after another, eventually fizzling out to static. After a quick reboot, the crowd chanted "Bino! Bino! Bino" until Glover returned to the stage.
He started his encore with the romantic doo-wop fan favorite, "So Fly"- this time, performing in the digital woods. Big trees rustled in a coded wind cycle, as a bonfire smoldered behind him. The virtually rendered campfire scene was a reference to the early Childish Gambino mixtape, Camp. Though longtime fans appreciated the sentiment, it is clear to see that Glover has evolved tremendously as a performer, a musician, and a technically sound rapper since then. He followed up with an impressive freestyle run.
The high concept of Childish Gambino's latest album, Because the Internet, were executed flawlessly in performance. The stunning visuals accompanying Glover's earnest and heartfelt stage presence made the Deep Web tour the most provocative and ambitious rap concert to come through Dallas since Kanye West's Yeezus tour. As an artist, Childish Gambino can be likened to the smart kid's Drake. He's fearless and unashamed to display his own emotional depth, but able to do so in a way that so artfully nails the pointlessness and ennui of the post-millennial. If they're gravitating toward work this substantial, however, maybe the kids are alright.