Childish Gambino Sound Academy, Toronto ON, March 24

Childish Gambino Sound Academy, Toronto ON, March 24
Photo: Stephen McGill
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Donald Glover could use some hot tea with lemon, maybe a lozenge. Or a nap.

We could add another hyphen to the writer-comedian-emcee-actor-singer-producer-director's job description: workaholic. Under his Wu-Tang Clan-alias-generator-spawned rap guise, Childish Gambino ("Bino" for short) is in the thick of his splashy 22-stop Deep Web Tour, which began in the UK and is expected to add more dates this week. He's got a critically acclaimed sitcom on television, another in the works, and is aggressively promoting and performing 2013's top ten full-length Because the Internet, the sophomore album for which he created a short film.

So with the artist's black sweater sweated through and discarded in favour of a white wife-beater, it shouldn't come as a shock that Glover's voice gave out on him an hour into Monday's performance at Toronto's Sound Academy.

Gambino apologized for the overtaxed vocal chords multiple times, but the damaged instrument hindered his set-closing freestyle. What should've been a creative, aggressive encore to cap off the flurry of fan favourites — "Heartbeat," "Bonfire," "Fire Fly" — turned into a softer spur-of-the-moment singing session. "Easier on my voice," explained Glover, who will take to the same stage tomorrow night (March 25) for the second half of a sold-out Toronto double-header. There's the rub.

Gambino is at his best in beast mode, the approachable, emotional dude who plays Community nerd Troy Barnes slinging around his rapid-fire wit like an A-hole jock does a wet towel in the locker room. His enunciation on the mic is impeccable, his enthusiasm boundless.

His efforts at crooning in a precious falsetto, which he did for a significant portion of the mellower centre of the show, fall a little flat. Spectators could catch snatches of other fans' conversations during these dips in volume and velocity, but such is the cost of a musician who blurs lines and smashes boxes; Drake, Kanye West and Andre 3000 are all much better spitting bars than singing, too, but containing creativity serves no one.

The devotion of Gambino fans is palpable. Most of the all-ages crowd was crammed to the front well ahead of the star's 9 p.m. set time, and the lack of lineups at the bar gave a good indication of the youth his heart-on-sleeve, life-as-open-book approach appeals to. To borrow one of the emcee's unlimited supply of quips, he has more "likes" than a white girl talking.

The best thing is, Gambino cares just as much about putting on a good show as he does about selecting the smartest punch lines. With an air-tight five-piece band (DJ, drums, guitar, bass, keys), two high-definition projectors splashing a variety of CGI backdrops and impactful light blasts, the production value (for a club show) was off the charts, perfect for a three-screen generation, most of whom were capturing the Internet-named Internet star's songs about the Internet on smartphones so they could upload images and video to, well, the Internet.

Yeah, having the audience's live tweets splashed large behind the stage felt a little meta. But luckily, Gambino's effort — rhyming till his voice box surrendered — reminded us that it's physical, too.

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