Erykah Badu’s Birthday Bashes At The Bomb Factory Are Dallas’ Greatest New Annual Tradition.
All photos by Breanna Loose.
That Erykah Badu would decide to celebrate her birthday by throwing a concert in her hometown and inviting the public to join in on the fun with her isn’t exactly some new idea. Dallas’ Queen of Neo-Soul has been doing it on and off since at least 2013, when she hosted a birthday bash at the Granada Theater. But for two years running now — and, well, three if you want to include the month-later show she hosted to help open the venue for the first time in 2015 — she’s been doing it at The Bomb Factory.
And her doing so is Dallas’ best new annual tradition.
The sheer star power at play during these things alone would seem to prove that. Last year, that meant guest appearances from Dave Chappelle and Andre 3000 on top of a stacked local bill. Last night, it meant an even bigger roster — one known in advance to include various bubbling-under locals, plus the still-red-hot Leon Bridges along with national rap heroes Talib Kweli and Pete Rock — along with surprise appearances from Chappelle and his fellow comedian Cedric the Entertainer, Houston rap icon Scarface and Badu’s fellow Neo-Soul monarch Jill Scott.
Yeah, Badu’s 46th birthday bash was really quite something.
Was it flawless? No, no quite. The night, it could certainly be argued, went on too long and its performances — Badu’s own headlining showcase notwithstanding — were fr the most part too short. With so many names on the bill, that was perhaps to be expected, although the fans packed onto the venue’s main floor — who were not willing to budge an inch to accommodate your hope to get in a closer look, nope, sorry not sorry — maybe didn’t get that memo.
Dallas darlings Bobby Sessions, Cure for Paranoia, -topic, The Outfit TX and Sam Lao each turned in commendable efforts, although the room they played to felt fairly cold. Things didn’t warm up much for Leon Bridges, either. Backed by saxophonist Jeff Dazey, not even his cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony” did much to light a fire under the crowd, which seemed alternately ready for Badu to arrive or tiring from the night becoming too long in the tooth. Pete Rock fared somewhat better — at least when he was introduced to the stage, anyway. That he only offered up a fairly straightforward (and short) DJ set hardly incited the room. Of the pre-Badu performers, Kweli and Scarface, the latter of which knows a thing or two about placating a Texas audience, fared best, with their name recognition and energetic — or, rather, energetic enough — offerings whipping the crowd into at least some sense of excitement.
By the time Badu took the stage, her fans were certainly ready. Thankfully, she’d reward their patience, turning in an almost two-hour long set that featured songs from across her career, from her 2015 But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape to her 1997 debut, Baduizm, which was in part also being celebrated on this night. The room, which only pulsed in spurts earlier in the night, was at full tile throughout her showcase.
And it was easy to understand why: Badu, it should be well known by now, is a masterful performer. And on this night she flashed her abilities on that front rather well. Her stage presence is equal parts sexy and mystical, comedic and enchanting, disarming and commanding; she is the total package, and that so many Dallasites were so eager to stay at the Bomb Factory well past midnight on a Sunday is a testament to that, and to her legend.
Same goes, one supposes, for why all those celebrities chose to show to this shindig, too. At the end of Badu’s set, they all crowded the stage, taking a bow together — the night at this point blurring the lines between traditional venue showcase and voyeuristic nightclub posturing. But the crowd, watching on as the likes of Cedric the Entertainer and Chappelle elbowing Kweli and Scarface and Kweli out of the way so they could pose for the Instagram-ready audiences, ate it up.
They’d get dessert, too: After that moment came two more surprises, as Dallas rapper Dorrough came out for thrilling renditions of his hit singles “Ice Cream Paint Job” and “Get Big,” only to be followed by a surprise offering from Jill Scott, who was to that late point rumored to be in the building but hardly expected to perform.
Indeed, some six hours after doors had opened, this night still had tricks up its sleeve, and still managed to find new ways to surprise and reward those who gave themselves to it.
And that’s what makes these bashes — should they continue, as we expect they well, although we’re still awaiting official comment on that — such a treat. No one wants to keep going to the same party over and over again. But when Badu’s at the helm, that’s not much of a concern.
In her hands, tradition isn’t a sign of repetition. It’s a reminder of possibilities.