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Childish Gambino's three-day PHAROS show comes to a close tonight (September 4) in the desert of California's Joshua Tree and among the camping tents, cacti, cocktails, food trucks (and a special screening of his upcoming TV series Atlanta), what attendees were treated to after months of secrecy and speculation was an entirely immersive introduction to Gambino's new foray into funk, soul, and blues. Here's what you missed.
A shirtless Childish Gambino in a yellow grass skirt.
And exaggeratedly long cornrows that skimmed his ass. And blacklight-activated neon painted in tribal-esque strokes across his face and chest.
A crowd-incited soul-clap on track No.2.
You know the type, slow and steady, over lyrics that asked listeners to “Come together” a la the Beatles.
Treks through space and time with aliens, avatars, and skeletons.
Mm-hmm. You read that right. NBD. With animated images and sceneries projected onto The Dome’s arched ceiling and curved walls, crowds were subject to a 360-degree sensory overload once the visuals began swirling around the crowd, giving us the trippy illusions that we were flying through space, doing ceremonial dances with regal figures in mountain valleys, gliding through a Day-Glo forest, standing in a rainy thunderstorm, bobbing at the foot of a waterfall, and standing eye-level with a glowing oversized moon. And the aforementioned long-limbed characters partied with, spun around, walked atop, and fell from the sky onto us, too.
Electric guitar solos galore.
We’re first gifted with this from one of the bandmembers on song No. 4, one Gambino starts under the special glow of a red light like TLC taught him well. It’s squealing and sexy this go-around but returns later in the set under a different pretense, then for a more bluesy feel.
Gambino playing band leader like a bawse.
“1, 2, 3, 4!” “Just the drums!” “Now the choir!” And a slow pseudo-scat. All on track No.5, the first of the upbeat offerings.
Gambino channeling his inner Marvin Gaye (and James Brown).
Song No.6 kicked off with unashamed moans and exhales from Gambino himself. Which later advanced into sex symbol-like wails. And because they were over a plucky bass and spliced in between his falsetto that repeatedly delivered the phrase ”Too scared to love,” it was hard not to draw the complimentary comparisons. He also punctuated a later performance with a hard “unh!” like the Godfather of Soul.
An island feel.
Percussive shakers, steel drums, and the windy blow of a train whistle back one tropical-inspired track.
Your first PHAROS quotable.
If anyone can croon, with earnest, the phrase “Please don’t find it rude / But I don’t eat fast food,” it’s Gambino.
For real. Attendees had to put their smartphones into soft pouches that we could keep in our possession but that were sealed and locked by security, and couldn't be undone unless you left the performance Dome. Surprisingly, they weren't missed.
The most epic, awestruck closer.
The psychedelic soundscape of the closing track was only further accentuated by the animation of falling planet rock, soaring constellations, and most mouth-dropping: an image of the Earth that started small on the ceiling of the Dome but grew, expanded, and pushed beyond what felt like the normal limitations of 3D into the faces of the crowd until we were blank-stare entranced before...bursting. And then dropping like show curtains.