Erykah Badu With Sarah Jaffe The Bomb Factory, Dallas Thursday, March 26, 2015
Last night, the scene in Deep Ellum was unlike any we've seen before. Well, unlike any we've seen in many years, at any rate, depending on who you ask. It was still daylight and there was a line of people wrapping all the way around an entire block near the corner of Canton and Crowdus. And several hours later, the line was still there, with more and more people flocking to see what all the fuss was about with Dallas' "newest" concert venue, and possibly its most exciting: The Bomb Factory.
The headliner on Thursday night was technically Erykah Badu, but the real star was The Bomb Factory itself. The hype has been steady for about 18 months, ever since Trees owner Clint Barlow announced that he would be resurrecting the fabled club back in November 2013. And as far as debuts go, the renovated venue was mighty impressive.
Indeed, the most notable thing about the new Bomb Factory is how utterly ambitious it is. It is, plainly put, a gamble -- and we mean that in the best possible way. The safe, easy route would've been for Barlow and his wife Whitney to stand pat with Trees, which they'd similarly revived almost six years ago. But in opening The Bomb Factory they took no shortcuts, spared no effort in trying make it a truly exceptional room for live music.
It's hard to express what it's like to stand inside a 4,000-capacity club filled with people. And club is the keyword here: The Bomb Factory is a club, not an arena and certainly not a theater. The lights were kept low, the walls, ceiling and exposed rafters all painted black. It's more Trees than Kessler Theater, yet it's decidedly more upscale than its sister venue a few blocks away.
If anything, the decor inside The Bomb Factory suggests the rustic chic popular in so many high-end restaurants and coffee shops nowadays. There was treated, repurposed wood (and a whole lot of it in the spacious balcony with its staggered seating), marbled floors and countertops, and Edison lightbulbs suspended overhead. Even the bathrooms were huge, complete with a spread of mints, gum and cigarettes and an attendant offering up paper towels.
Forget about the old Bomb Factory, then. They didn't make concert venues like this 20 years ago, not even 10 years ago. This isn't The Bomb Factory reborn; it's a whole new venue built from the shell of an old warehouse. That shell, and the old venue's reputation, is all that the two really have in common.
So the room was impressive, and as an event it seemed an unqualified success. The line did stretch all the way around the block at some points (and at least halfway around it for several hours), yet wait times were reported to run only around a half-hour -- not bad in the circumstances. Lines for the four bars (three downstairs and one in the balcony) were reasonable as well, although the drinks weren't quite in line with a rock band's budget, with a Lone Star running $6.50.
Most importantly, the show was sold out, and sold out before the doors even opened. Once again, a definite success. The challenge, of course, is to maintain that buzz. Luckily, the Barlows have proven to be astute businesspeople, so there's no reason to doubt their ability to keep the place afloat. Figuring out what exactly the identity of the place will be is a little more up in the air.
Opening night -- and opening weekend, in fact -- is a bit of slam dunk. Curiosity no doubt helped bring folks in the door and sell out the room. Badu was a sensible choice for opening night, and on Saturday the local pride (and nostalgia) gets ratcheted up with the Toadies. From there? A mix of shows including the Jesus and Mary Chain, Tyler, the Creator and Nikki Sixx's Sixx:A.M.
Sarah Jaffe's inclusion as opener on Thursday was a nice touch, but one that highlights some of the challenges ahead: Folks plugged into the local scene were rightfully proud to see her play such a large stage, but many a person standing in the line outside didn't know who she was. Those are the people that The Bomb Factory needs in order to fill the house, and they're not the core constituents of Deep Ellum.
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But then that's beauty of not playing things safe: It's impossible to predict just where things will take you. The Bomb Factory is a gamble, yes, but if the Barlows hit the jackpot it will be huge for Deep Ellum and huge for Dallas. "World-class venue" wouldn't be mere hyperbole. It takes years to built a reputation like that, but so far the folks at The Bomb Factory have done everything they can to set the pieces in place.
They deserve to be applauded, and they probably deserve a break -- even if only for one night.
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