No one can say for sure when The Bomb Factory closed the first time -- sometime between 1996 and 2000, and likely closer to the former than the latter. But we can mark the precise time of its Official Resurrection: 3:23 p.m. March 26, 2015, when co-owner Whitney Barlow, standing between husband Clint and Dallas City Council member Adam Medrano, cut the ribbon in the wood-paneled lobby of the Deep Ellum venue that shares only a name, a Canton Street address and a few bricks with its once-beloved predecessor.
It was only a ceremonial how-do in Deep Ellum Thursday afternoon. Doors were opening in hours, and there was still much work to be done; the place looked more like a construction site than a concert venue. Said Whitney as the countdown clock tick-tick-ticked toward Zero Hour, "I'm excited. Nervous. A little emotional. This is the biggest day of our lives. So much hard work, so fast."
As in: Nineteen weeks fast, from start of construction to a Sarah Jaffe-Erykah Badu opening-night bill. Nineteen weeks to replace the roof, add the suite-filled balconies and back-lit bars and a backstage gym and kitchen. Nineteen weeks to turn a bombed-out husk of an empty building into The Bomb Factory ready to house 4,300 warm bodies on a cool spring night.
And yet they did it. Save for the few seconds during which a bank of speakers went silent, there wasn't a glitch, a flub, a flaw. OK -- maybe it was swingers-club dark, because a few lights hadn't yet been installed. And maybe it smelled a little too much like fresh paint, since crews had spent the afternoon spray-painting the underside of the balconies. (One colleague suggested the venue had the whiff of a Sherwin Williams stuck in a Gas Pipe.) Still ...
"Deep Ellum is reborn," said Kettle Art gallery owner Frank Campagna as he gazed upon the gathering crowd wrapped around an entire Deep Ellum block eager for its first glimpse at the venue. Campagna was probably kidding. The man who painted the Good Latimer Tunnel murals long since 'dozed by DART has been around long enough for a few resurrections. But he was impressed too. Delighted. As close as he ever gets to giddy.
"This is a game changer for Dallas, for sure," said Jaffe shortly after inaugurating the just-finished room a little past 8:30 p.m. Thursday. To a half-packed room -- the line was still wrapped around the block -- she kicked off with the now-familiar set-opener, "Revelation" off the recently released Don't Disconnect -- sparse synths and heavy style. "It's gonna be a damn fine night." And it was -- well into the wee small hours of Friday morning, when Badu finally wrapped a marathon set that threatened to bump into the Toadies' return Saturday night.
Jaffe was the perfect opener -- new blood pumped into the old body. She nailed it. You could tell, maybe, she didn't think she had. Her usual bravado slipped a bit as some in the crowd demanded Er-y-kah, Er-y-kah, Er-y-kah. She warned the crowd, halfway through her set, she had another 30 minutes to go. They didn't cheer; they didn't boo. They just ... watched without listening. But those paying attention were rewarded. Jaffe, as new wave as an old soul, delivered, along with a band newly augmented by Shibboleth frontman Don Cento.
Badu, born not so far from Deep Ellum, took the stage shortly before 11, backed by the crack Cannabinoids, which counts among its members Jaffe co-conspirator Symbolyc One (who joined Sarah for two songs) and Badu's cousin Robert "Free" Bradford, with whom she made that mythic 19-song demo back when she was still serving coffee on Greenville Avenue during the Clinton administration. Badu was feeling particularly nostalgic on this opening night: In '93 she and Free opened for A Tribe Called Quest at the very same venue, just after she'd quit college and come home to become a full-time musician. Her roots are deep in Deep Ellum: She played early shows at Dread-N-Irie, sharing bills with the likes of Shabazz 3.
And now -- now she's soul music's past, present and future stuffed under a giant hat and sheathed in some worn-out overalls. Those who'd seen Badu countless times agreed as Thursday night gave way to Friday morning that she's never sounded better. She makes the art of giving it everything look like nothing. The critic's notebook is filled with song titles -- among them "Bag Lady," "Window Seat," "Back in the Day" -- but in the end, Badu and band don't divvy up their set into chunks defined by hit singles and those that never were. It's one long, glorious, effortless, beautiful, thrilling, scintillating piece.
Finally, just past 1 in the morning, she began to wind it down -- because, of course, all great sets must eventually come to an end. She thanked the band. She thanked the crowd. And: "Congratulations, Bomb Factory," she said. "Welcome back."