Me and Your Mama
Joshua Tree. 2016.
Childish Gambino debuts his new album, hyped by complete secrecy, in the middle of the California desert. There was no hit single, no teaser track, not even an album title. Only a name—Pharos.
In ancient Greece, Pharos was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, considered the seventh wonder of the ancient world. Now, I don't know what all that has to do with Childish Gambino, but this show was as mysterious as the Greek ruins. We were told nothing about the concert, your ticket was just a code on an app, and even the show's official website looked like this:
That's it. You download the app, enter your ticket code, and read a few rules and legal jargon about the show. Literally no information explained what we would actually see, and the secrecy didn't stop there.
After camping a night in the mountains near Palm Springs, my girlfriend and I drove to Joshua Tree and wove through the security checks (which were unnecessarily thorough) until the staff guided us into our camping spot.
There wasn't much to the campsite—just an open desert field with various Joshua trees and bushes spread throughout. It was interesting to see how far some of these people drove to see a one-man show. I spotted a Massachusetts plate not far from my truck. We kicked back, cracked some beers (that we snuck in), and got to know the people camping around us. Once the sun went down we walked over to this dome on the horizon.
Now, like I said, I had zero idea what to expect, and the security at the entrance of the dome made sure that what we were about to see was for our eyes only. There was a thorough pat down, bag search, and our phones were locked in these neoprene pouches we carried into the venue. You could hear people complaining about their phones getting locked up, but Donald Glover was doing us a favor, because what we were about to experience was raw and real. Phone screens be damned...
This 360/VR recording was only released months and months after the live show, and it captures a mere fraction of what we saw that night. Donald came out in tribal gear, paint, and long dreads—I didn't even think it was him at first. The show was pure funk on a level that would make George Clinton proud and the projections on the dome ceiling were mesmerizing.
The show was brief. It flew by and at the end I wasn't sure what I just experienced. "Awaken, My Love!" is so radically different from his other music that it took me a few days to process, but looking back it's one of the best live musical experiences I've ever seen.
Joshua Tree... could there be a more fitting place for something like this?