Prince isn’t with us anymore…but his music is timeless.
Of course, we all knew that before losing the Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist in April 2016. More specifically, we recognized it when we first heard Prince’s sexed-up synthesizer soul music on the 1982 breakthrough 1999 and smash 1984 follow-up Purple Rain. “The Kid” (to use his nickname in the movie Purple Rain) was something special. You could hear it in his voice—those baritone come-ons and cartoon squeals—and feel it in those electrifying arrangements.
You could see the magic, too. At least once MTV hit the airwaves. Your eyes absorbed this magnificent mulatto in his black undies and violet overcoat, your brain processed the imagery, your hips wriggled to the beat, and your heart was converted. Prince had it all: Singer, writer, guitarist, dancer, pianist, bassist—a consummate singular musical entertainer the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Bowie became Ziggy Stardust.
Then just like that, he was gone.
Now, Prince’s best-known and most commercially (and creatively, many would say) successful backing band is honoring his legacy by touring with all the killer songs that shaped who they were, who Prince became—and who we are.
But this reunion is about more than paying tribute. It’s about therapy. Now, some thirty years removed from the albums that catapulted them to fame, the middle-aged musicians in The Revolution have reconnected to help each other—and help us—mourn.
And heal. And then celebrate.
Lest any accusatory fingers be thrust at Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, and friends for “cashing in” on their former employer, it should be noted that Prince himself had plans to reform The Revolution once he finished up with his latest protégés, 3rdEyeGirl. Moreover, the songs being revisited on this tour tour were all co-written by these same Revolution members—all of whom appeared on Prince’s biggest LPs 1979-1986.
So it’s their music, too. And ours.
At least that’s how Melvoin put it when The Revolution threw a gala Prince party at House of Blues in downtown Cleveland last night (May 17).
Melvoin—in black suit and sexy librarian glasses-strummed a white Gibson ES-335 (and later a Fender Jazzmaster) while Mark “Brownmark” Brown (in loose black clothing and “Hustle” ball cap) slapped and popped a Fender Jazz Bass to her right. Together, the two fielded most of the evening’s lead vocals—with Melvoin taking Prince’s mid-range songs (“Computer Blue,” “Take Me With U”) and Brown handling the deeper verses (“America,” “Automatic”).
Keyboardist (and Melvoin’s musical partner) Lisa Coleman sang backup, too, and special guest singer/session drummer Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition) commanded His Purple’s Majesty’s falsetto notes on super-funky “Uptown” (from Dirty Mind) and “DMSR” (from 1999). Williams proved himself a phenomenal dancer, too.
Also present were Revolution drummer Bobby “Z” Rivkin, who keep the percussive pistons pumping on “Let’s Work,” “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy” and synth ace Matt “Doctor” Fink—who still sports sunglasses and surgical scrubs in concert (and occasionally moves his head around herky-jerky, like a robot).
But Melvoin invited the House of Blues audience to spend some time in Prince’s shoes, too: The Revolution left the brunt of some vocal work (particularly the unforgettable refrains) on “Raspberry Beret,” “Erotic City,” and “Let’s Go Crazy” to the fans.
Melvoin and Brown tag-teamed vocals on “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse,” a pair of vault tracks destined for the Purple Rain deluxe edition next month. Around the World in a Day (1985) entry “Paisley Park” reimagined the musical utopia Prince strove for in his work (so said Wendy). The delicate, bittersweet “Sometimes in Snows in April” was rendered by Melvoin and Coleman on acoustic guitar and electric piano.
“We didn’t know what to do,” Melvoin said of last year’s tragedy.
“So I had everyone over at my place…and we just cried.”
But the musical brothers and sisters took solace in a couple “thank you” gigs at First Avenue, the Minneapolis hotspot where they performed with Prince in 1983 for the Purple Rain movie. The special engagements snowballed into a mini-tour, whose dazzling dates upped demand for an extended schedule.
Now Prince zealots everywhere can purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka with The Revolution.
The band was telegraphically tight and the rhythms so robust you’d swear thirty weeks hadn’t passed since the last major tour, much less thirty years. Melvoin’s chords were brisk and bright (“Controversy,” “Kiss”), and she shared a few scorching solos with a second capable guitar player (to her left). Brown’s thumb attack and finger-pops were so frenetic and funky that Williams and Melvoin teasingly fanned the bassist’s fumes.
The set didn’t include any late ‘80s singles (“Alphabet Street,” “Sign O’ the Times, ” “Batdance”) or latter-day nuggets (“Diamonds and Pearls,” “7,” “Cinnamon Girl”); The Revolution restricted itself to its ‘80s oeuvre and sidestepped pre-Dirty Mind Prince (1977-78), ignored NPG (New Power Generation) fare, and tiptoed ‘round the “Artist” and “Glyph” efforts.
Which was fine by this captive Cleveland crowd, whose “Delirious” devotees jumped, swayed, and sang along to timeless tush-shaker “When Doves Cry” and incandescent closing hymn “Purple Rain.”
The concert climaxed much like the 1984 Albert Magnoli film, with Wendy, Lisa and their co-revolutionaries barreling ecstatically, triumphantly encores “I Would Die 4U” and “Baby I’m a Star.”
Prince Rogers Nelson may not have been in the room, but that irrepressibly creative, ardent, and jubilant communal spirit was palpable—pronounced everywhere between and around all the grace notes, buoyant beats, hiccupping bass, vocal acrobatics, and ear-candy keyboard hooks. Not to mention all the purple attire, fishnet stockings, and Flock of Seagulls hairdos in the audience.
So while it may be 2017 (and Prince has ascended to that funky mirror-balled dance mecca in the sky), The Revolution is—as affirmed by its Twitter handle—@StillAGroup, and their two-hour show is a spectacle worth seeing.
Check out their Facebook for future dates, running through Summer 2017.