Half an hour before the doors even opened at The Bomb Factory on Sunday night, the line had snaked back to the corner of Canton and Malcolm X. The snake grew larger with more arriving, shaking their heads and making the journey to the end. The wind wasn’t kind and it made the 48 degrees feel decidedly more arctic than it should. Even still, no one was complaining, because they knew on the other side of the doors they would see H.E.R.
Fifteen minutes before the sold-out show started, the crowd was in high spirits — dancing and swaying with hands raised before the first act even made it to the stage. Led by the DJ in center stage, hundreds packed to the front moved in oddly perfect synchronicity with an endless stream of people feeding into the warmth of the masses from the frigid exterior.
When the first act, Tone Stith, stepped on stage, the audience was loud and excited but lowered their volume to match the low-key vibes he brought with him. The energy in the room dropped, but it was hard to determine if it was from lack of interest or rather meeting his level of presence to watch. Stith’s high-registered falsetto hit notes impossibly out of reach and fit appropriately when he covered a piece of Michael Jackson’s "Human Nature."
Stith’s time onstage was brief, and almost as quickly as he left, Bri Steves soon appeared, filling the room with her smile. Steves immediately game out with a charismatic flourish, a raw attitude born from the enthusiasm of a still-rising performer who is allowed the opportunity of standing in front of a sold-out room.
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Steves’ presence was forceful, almost hard and aggressive but with a feminine grace that made for a charming watch. She performs with the it-factor that some performers just do or do not have, that intangible quality of watchability that indicates a long career ahead of her. She took a rowdy crowd that showed some resistance at the beginning of her time on stage — not because of disinterest in her but the excitement to see the headlining act — and had them waving their hands in unison before much time had passed. On a night that football fans were proudly talking down about Philadelphia, Philly native Steves gave the Dallas room a good argument for the positives of her hometown.
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Steves’ comfort onstage when she talked to the crowd felt like she was at a bar back home, not in a capacity-filled room fighting for vantage points. She has the poise of someone who’s been performing more years than an artist who just broke out onto the scene this year, seamlessly transitioning into telling a story, to throwing out a verse, to sitting on a stool to measure and test the audience. It takes the confidence and personality she possesses to command the attention and respect from a crowd primed to see the act after you, especially coming after someone like Stith, whose lower energy can get swallowed by a room expecting a wow factor. Steves is someone to watch, and whether the crowd was aware of it or not, they watched a future star.
When the quiet of the house music announced the imminent arrival of multiple Grammy nominee H.E.R., the crowd surged forward for better spots. Lines for drinks at the bar were abandoned, food was hurriedly thrown away, all phones were raised to record, and the talkative room’s sentences were left half-finished. And with good reason. H.E.R. is a one-woman maestro, picking up and discarding different instruments seemingly on a whim, each one a momentary extension of her body.
To watch H.E.R. is not like viewing a standard concert; it’s an art show gallery put to music. Her movements are fluid and strong, everything done to accomplish a closer bond with an audience singing along after they catch their breath from screaming. She provides an almost-cathartic experience, the music literally a part of you as the vibrations raced through the concrete underfoot and traveled up your nervous system. People danced in the shoulder-to-shoulder spots they were able to fight for.
And while the audience screamed and danced and gave themselves to the talents of H.E.R., it was clear the line on the cold sidewalks of Deep Ellum was a price they would have paid over and over again.