The grand (re)opening of The Bomb Factory, the Deep Ellum music venue that hosted everybody from Nine Inch Nails to Phish before shutting down at the end of its early 1990s heyday, is this Thursday night. God’s gift to Dallas, and Dallas’ gift to music, Erykah Badu is headlining the comeback.
There’s no question what Badu is going to do. The queen of neo-soul is a once-in-a-lifetime-artist who could casually rock a crowd in your cousin’s garage just as easily as she can command a fancy new 4,300-capacity club. The future of the venue, and what it means for the city’s music scene, is less clear.
As Christopher Mosley wrote for this month’s issue of D Magazine, it’s not the venue, but the people inside it, who matter. It’s certainly a mistake to exhume ideas and venues from the city’s past in the hopes of ushering in a bold new era when Dallas isn’t so insecure about the identity of its music scene. It’s also a mistake to assume that’s what’s happening with the resurrection of The Bomb Factory.
Aside from the name, some early nostalgia-heavy bookings–The Toadies play Saturday for the band’s first gig at The Bomb Factory since 1994–and the building’s location, this new venue doesn’t seem to have much in common at all with the place that shut down roughly two decades ago. The club’s new owner, Clint Barlow, who with his wife Whitney also reopened Trees six years past, has been pretty clear with the Observer and Morning News about the differences between then and now. It’s hard to be nostalgic for a place that didn’t have air conditioning, even if Fugazi did play there.
There are some easy parallels to draw between the Lazarus-out-the-tomb story of the Kessler Theater, which just celebrated five years since its reopening in Oak Cliff, and The Bomb Factory’s comeback: Long-dormant venues in seen-better-days neighborhoods return with the “revitalization” of their respective blocks, causing journalists to start throwing around words like “iconic” and “historic.” All snark and quotation marks aside, it’s worth considering the impact a really bitching live music venue can have on a neighborhood, particularly at a time when urban development in downtown Dallas is such a hot topic.
The Bomb Factory’s marketing director, Gavin Mulloy, called the yet-to-open venue the biggest independent room in Texas, and I don’t have the facts to immediately dispute that. Even if it’s just one of the biggest independent rooms in the state and the qualifier is your standard bit of loudmouth PR fluff, it would be a tragedy to see this city’s music scene squander all that space and all the good it could do for the surrounding area.
The Bomb Factory should take a page from the (admittedly much smaller-sized) Kessler’s playbook and make it a point to function as a sort of de facto community hall, hosting locally focused events and other gatherings when the stage isn’t otherwise occupied by bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain–also, keep booking bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain. The fact that the venue’s already set for Dallas’ annual fashion showcase, The Pin Show, bodes well on that front.
Most of this is hypothetical, but here is what we do know about the joint before its grand opening Thursday. Capacity tops out at 4,300, putting The Bomb Factory squarely ahead of South Side Ballroom (about 3,000), and House of Blues (about 2,000) in the field of mid-sized music clubs in Dallas. We’re looking at about 50,00 square feet, a large indoor mezzanine area built to hold about 1,000 people, several bars, and a distinct lack of support beams or anything else blocking your line-of-sight to the stage. Places like the Verizon Theatre, and obviously venues like American Airlines Center or Gexa Energy Pavilion, are going to continue to dwarf The Bomb Factory in size and pull when it comes to the crazy big name acts.
But here’s the not-so-secret about arena-sized venues: seeing performers play those super-sized concert halls absolutely sucks. The Bomb Factory is big enough to book your favorite band, and small enough that you can actually see them play. Back from the dead, this venue has a ton of potential.
I strapped on a hardhat and got to poke my head around the building a couple weeks ago, and my biggest takeaway was that the bathrooms looked comfortable and enormous. Even unfinished, it looked like a really nice place. As of right now, it’s nothing more than that.
The Bomb Factory is just a building. What we do with it might make it the most important music venue in Dallas.