Scenes From Saturday’s Toadies, Brutal Juice and Baboon Show at The Bomb Factory.
In case you hadn’t heard: Deep Ellum is “back.”
Or so is currently the sentiment. Granted, there’s likely a better metric of true back-ness for a neighborhood — rising rents, new business, more delicious stuff to eat, partially paved sidewalks, etc. — than just a weekend’s worth of rock shows. But, then again, maybe not. Not if you’re of the certain age that recalls this neighborhood’s rock ‘n’ roll glory days of the ’90s, at least.
And, this month, that set’s championing this notion by firmly planting its flag in the recently resurrected The Bomb Factory — a fact that was celebrated on Saturday night as the new venue, as part of its opening-weekend festivities, offered up a bill transported straight from the ’90s with its roster of the Toadies, Brutal Juice and Baboon.
Of course, these bands themselves aren’t really “back.” They weren’t really ever gone. Sure, the individual members of the bands that make up the “Fraternity of Noise” went off to form bands including the Burden Brothers, Tomorrowpeople and The Boom Boom Box, among other acts. But reunion gigs were never that far away. Brutal Juice had been doing them annually until a couple of years ago when they started writing and recording new material and convening from New York, Denton, Dallas, Austin and elsewhere on an even more-frequent basis. Though tussled by more personnel changes, the Toadies’ timeline is eerily similar. Meanwhile, Baboon’s history tracks a parallel course, too; former Baboon bassist Mark Hughes was even the Toadies’ final bass player before that band’s own four-year hiatus, which started right around 2002.
The Bomb Factory, however, was gone. And yet here too it stands reincarnated — and in a way that nobody who gripped nostalgically to its prior incarnation could’ve anticipated. Gone are the cranked roof-vents that passed poorly for climate control. Same too with the ladder one had to climb to reach the balcony’s arguable VIP area. Far as I can tell, the only thing that remains from old Bomb Factory is four exterior walls and some darkness — only, this time, the darkness seems to be there on purpose. These days, it serves to highlight the massive stage-lighting system, as well as the 400 or so back-lit linear miles of bars on all floors.
It’s probably just a coincidence that those same nostalgic ’90s folk who came out on Saturday night have more trouble seeing in the darkness these days.
There was no missing Baboon on Saturday night, though. Guitarist Mike Rudnici aside, Baboon’s probably the tallest band in Dallas right now — a crown once worn by Tablet in the ’90s and Sparrows in the ’00s. And from those heights, the band still delivers the hooks that have made them local critical favorites for all these decades. It’s a little weird, then, that Baboon somehow remains the perennial front-end of this recurring three-band lineup; if the Toadies and Brutal Juice weren’t so damned good and perhaps more accidentally accessible, Baboon would be headlining a gig like this. Alas, they opened things up on this night, and were followed by Brutal Juice, which earned its main support role and its nationwide fan-base one kid at a time, one gig at a time and one dusty floor at a time. And though renowned for the storm of noise that bassist Sam McCall and guitarist Ted Wood generate — and for the nuts-tucking, cigarette-stubbing, oil-barrel-banging antics of co-frontman Craig Welch — the real secret to Brutal Juice’s success, and what really ties the band to Baboon and to its erstwhile Interscope label-mates in the Toadies, is again the hooks.
It must be said, though, that the abandon of these openers’ anthemic sing-along moments seemed to slightly mystify the second- and third-generation Toadies fans in attendance on this night. These kids wrestled with the Brutal Juice “classics” like “Cathy Rigby,” which included a cameo by co-frontman Gordon Gibson’s brother Joey, the same way that die-hard Brutal Juice fans worked on connecting with the newly written recorded stuff from Brutal Juice’s upcoming record.
Frankly, that’s the way it works with the Toadies’ new material, too. It’s one of the drawbacks of a bill built on at least one part nostalgia: People wanna hear the old stuff, the good stuff, the stuff that provided the soundtrack to their glory years, their siblings’ glory years or (gulp) their parents’ glory years.
To the Toadies’ credit, Vaden Todd Lewis and the gang seem to know this. Their Saturday night set was built on the infrastructure of solid hits including “Possum Kingdom,” “Tyler” and “I Come From the Water” — songs that charted nationally and marked the high-point of music from Dallas bands being commingled on major radio playlists with other national acts. There were some technical glitches with a guitar, sure. But there were moments too when the guys on stage seemed to smile in a collective acknowledgement of a “moment.”
In all, the Toadies’ headlining set came off smoothly. Better yet, it was perfectly complemented by great sound, a massive video-wall on the back of the stage and well-choreographed lights that tracked through the audience with every break-out chorus.
There’s no narrative of Dallas’ “glory years” from the ’90s that doesn’t hold the Toadies as standard-bearers — and, really, no Toadies narrative that doesn’t include multiple iterations of the classic bills that included Brutal Juice and Baboon as willing, supportive collaborators. Never mind for a moment that Bomb Factory owners Clint and Whitney Barlow are repeating here the formula that seems to have worked so well with their reopening of Trees — acquire a space with a deep legacy, keep the name, completely rebuild the interior infrastructure (much to the distress of us folk who are young enough to complain, but too old to have kept the previous Trees open) to something nearly unrecognizable and become a pillar of the neighborhood. It’s just lather, rinse and repeat with Bomb Factory. But without bands like the ones that played these stages back in the day, there’d be no past to mine — a fact that isn’t to be discounted.
Yeah, Deep Ellum is back. But it’s because of a multitude of reasons. And it’s fitting, then, that on Saturday night, they were all celebrated well.