The Revolution, Prince’s most famous band, tested the question of whether or not they could fill the deep vacuum left by Prince’s death in 2016. This year, the band, featuring Wendy Melvoin (guitar, vocals), Lisa Coleman (keyboards, vocals), Brown Mark (bass), Bobby Z (drums) and Matt Fink (keyboards) embarked on an experimental national tour which concludes in July.
Prince had a magnetic and powerful presence few artists can match — let alone, come close to — considering the sheer magnitude of his diverse, eclectic talents. However, in all show reviews, the critical response has been overwhelmingly positive and fans have embraced this conceptual homage to Prince. Loyal fans simply love and respect The Revolution and the contributions the band made to Prince’s musical artistry and signature sound.
The reaction to the recent sold-out show at The Wiltern was no different from the others. The crowd easily took to Melvoin and Brown Mark, who alternated on lead and co-vocals. Suzanne Melvoin, Wendy’s twin sister, and member of Prince’s other band, The Family, provided additional backup vocals and exhibited a playful, lighthearted demeanor onstage. Stokley Williams of the St. Paul R&B band Mint Condition, tore up the stage with his dynamic stage presence and sexy, confident swagger. Williams made Prince’s material his own keeping the integrity of the originals intact.
Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum of Princess, the well-known Prince cover band, made an appearance singing Prince’s “When You Where Mine,” popularized by Cyndi Lauper.
Sometimes, the exuberant screaming from the audience made the songs inaudible. The fans were so moved by the prospect of being as close to the spirit of a Prince humanly possible through the presence of The Revolution. The excitement washed over them in the form of mini Princemania.
There also were plenty of sing-a-longs where Brown Mark would point the microphone toward the audience and encourage them to join him. The fans hardly needed prompting or coaxing. They were ready and willing to sing in unison to all the song lyrics. Concertgoers were dancing and talking animatedly to one another as if sharing their favorite Prince memories.
Twenty-four songs in total, pre-Revolution and Revolution era material was featured prominently in the broad set. Among the songs included upbeat, party songs “1999” and “Raspberry Beret.” During “Raspberry Beret” Melvoin made a point to emphasize the continued relevancy of racial discrimination by repeating the politically charged lyrics slowly for effect.
She also spoke to the audience about sending out “smoke signals” to Prince while they performed “Paisley Park” — a song the band felt was fitting as “it was about him and the band in the balance, a place that fueled his creativity and hearing what made him feel good.”
Reconciling the loss of Prince further, Wendy and Lisa shared the spotlight together while performing the somber “Sometimes it Rains In April.” They co-wrote the song with Prince 30 years prior to his death.
The Revolution also showcased unreleased material from the famous vault playing “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.”
Fittingly, “Purple Rain” closed this passionate and raw show. The night was packed with commercial hits and critically acclaimed material along with enough obscure cuts to satisfy the Prince aficionados in the audience. The two remaining encores ended the celebratory night on a high note. Fans got to connect and get close to the music of Prince and his band The Revolution on this stop of the North American tour. Bonding with like-minded music followers, they also go to go through the ongoing process of healing and grieving this essential and irreplaceable artist that was every inch: “The Star.”
For fans worldwide continuing to mourn the loss of Prince, “music is truly medicine.” In its first tour in decades, The Revolution is celebrating the iconic and influential music as part of the prolific artist’s enduring legacy with a “message of hope, love, and unity.” One could add “healing” as well. The original band features Lisa Coleman on keyboards/piano, Wendy Melvoin, on guitar, Brown Mark on bass, Bobby Z on drums and keyboardist Matt Fink. Going through their own gamut of emotions and processing the memories and time together recording and touring with Prince, It clearly brings up a lot for each individual musician. From when they originally reunited for three special sold-out sold shows at Minneapolis’ First Avenue, the birthplace of Purple Rain, to being approached to perform at Paisley Park on the first anniversary of Prince’s death to the decision to take The Revolution back on the road. To discuss that and more, tHeARTofla spoke with Matt Fink for an in-depth interview that touches on all aspects of this very special reunion tour and what it means to The Revolution and how it is affecting the devotees of Prince they perform to in concert every night.
What was the experience like for the band playing the sold-out shows at First Avenue? Did it feel surreal, sad or uplifting or all of the above?
Yes, all of the above. All of the above. And just so you know, the Revolution performed in early 2012 — for a special event that was sponsored by the American Heart Association.
This was about a year after Bobby, our drummer (Bobby Z) had suffered a pretty bad heart attack and we almost lost him. He developed a relationship with the American Heart Association and wanted to give something back as a fundraising event. So we got behind him and did that event.
Again, in another surreal moment, back, maybe the end of ’03 I think it was. We did another fundraising event for Sheila E’s nonprofit that she has about the Lil’ Angel Bunny Foundation. That was the first time the band reunited after a 17-year hiatus from one another. Who knew at that time that we would have even reunited without Sheila asking us to do it? So, we did that, and it was exciting at that time, and also very surreal for me, to see everybody.
Really, the thing that the band really wanted and needed was to have Prince reunite with the group somewhere along the way. We really desired that, and we all had approached him at different times because concert promoters were approaching us as well as band members, to do something.
So there has been more than one opportunity, but Prince refused those opportunities.
Then it was early September of 2014, and I had a meeting with Prince out at Paisley Park, and Bobby Z was with me at that meeting as well, and the first thing out of his mouth was wanting to discuss the possibility of a reunion. He was beginning to think about it at that time, finally. We left that meeting hopeful that he was going to do something within the next year or two.
He had obviously made plans to do the 3rdeyegirl project, and then he went out and did his solo piano tour and all that. He was in the midst of that when he passed away. So we were thinking — OK, so after the piano tour, maybe in 2017, or late 2016, that’s when he’s going to start thinking about The Revolution reunion.
Ultimately a full-on Minneapolis sound tour, with The Time, Prince and the Revolution again, and Sheila E and all those people. It would have been really cool, but unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition.
That was all being looked at by him at the time. Wow, so it’s…. You know it’s… An alternate history that could have happened.
Yes, and so that’s another reason why we’re out here. Well, we thought he was going to do it; we feel like we owe it to our fans to do this at this time. It’s just sort of all those mixed things that we need to do, so come all together and do it.
Photos by Robert Georgeff (c) 2017
How has the tour been going? What has the response been from the fans and their reactions? Is there anything that surprised you touring now?
Oh, they love it. The fan reactions are awesome. Reviews have been great. There are rarely any negative comments from reviewers, in fact not at all actually. I did see a fan actually, this morning… I had shared the Wiltern show on my Facebook page again, and everybody there was excited and most of the people had already purchased their tickets and were just saying how excited they were to come to the show. There was only one person, one guy, who was a naysayer. [laughs] I thought, well, you know, hey you know 0.001% isn’t bad. So I’m OK with that.
How do you choose what songs to perform? Do you mix up the set list each night of the tour or “wing it”?
Well, the way we’re doing it right now is we’re trying to keep just a set that we like right now, with very little variation, because it just makes life easier right now the way we’re doing this. Because everybody is so busy we just don’t get a lot of time rehearsing on the side. I mean when we’re out on the road, we’re taking breaks in between different segments of the tour, because we’re all doing other things on the side.
So just getting it together — it was a lot of work and effort because of the lack of time involved getting it ready.
But now that we have it together it’s a great show, it’s flowing properly and we as a group decided to have every band member create their own wish list and possibly even try to put it in an order if they could, and then we all compared notes and managed to come to a consensus as to what songs we put into the set.
What has it been like performing onstage every night without Prince? Do you feel his spirit every time you play the songs?
Well, I suppose. It depends on your level of spirituality and what your beliefs are in that respect. I’d say that we all have a belief that he’s there in spirit and he’s watching over it — at least I do. One can if you’re very religious and you believe in that sort of thing, yes. The people who are atheists probably don’t think that. [laughs]
I’m not saying anyone is an atheist in the band, and there isn’t, but the issue is — some people believe in the afterlife and some don’t. But if he’s there, that’s great; if some people have that ability to feel the presence of another soul around, that’s another thing and I know people that are able to do that. I’m not that gifted when it comes to that. But I’ve had my own spiritual experiences and issues with ghosts and feeling a presence or a being shown that they’re around — things like that from time to time. Then I know people who are really good at that, really good at sensing people’s presence who passed on. So I tend to believe in it, yes — that he is hanging out; he’s watching; he’s probably got a smile on his face.
On a less spiritual note, I’m sure that there’s some responsibility you guys feel towards bringing some grace and dignity as human beings just doing this work that you guys created together. Is there any way that you guys reflect that during the show?
Absolutely. Yes, there’s just so much respect that we have for him and for maintaining some kind of legacy moving forward here so that we can play from time to time and keep the music going for the fans.
There’s a lot of people who say, “Hey, I never got to you guys back in the day” or “I was too young, I was too young, but became a fan later because my parents turned me on to you and I’m coming to the show because of that.”
There’s all these comments coming at us and I just love to see that, it’s great. It’s why bands like The Beatles are still big and why Paul McCartney’s out there carrying on at the age of 74. I saw him — what an inspiration he is — three-hour sets in front of stadium crowds, I mean he’s doing that constantly and it’s amazing. It’s amazing. I hope we’re doing that. I hope we’re all going to move on into the future and play the hits and maybe, hopefully — I’m not saying maybe — I’d like to be doing some new originals with the group and putting those out there.
— and also playing unreleased material out of the vault that we recorded.
Yes. So all of the above, something that I’ve wished for many years actually and the group itself has. So now that we’re here at this moment in time, that’s what it looks like we’re going to do.
So you have plans to release and perform other material that you guys worked on with Prince?
Yes. I’d say yes to that. They’ve already released two songs from the vault that we’ve been playing, and now they’re out there as a single right now, “Roadhouse Garden” and “Our Destiny” which we really only played at a show one time back in 1985.
The Revolution formed in 1979 when Prince joined drummer,
Bobby Z and keyboardist Matt Fink.
The Revolution was credited on three Prince studio-albums, Purple Rain, Around the World In a Day and Parade while some members also played on 1999. Together, they earned multiple #1 hits, as well as two Grammy® Awards and an Oscar, with the song “Purple Rain,”
for Best Original Song Score in 1985.
When they were approached to perform at Paisley Park on the first anniversary of Prince’s death, they decided it was time to take The Revolution back on the road. “I think everybody in the Revolution is singular, not like anybody else,” says Melvoin, “So while we still have a shot at getting that same feeling, let’s do it with as much grace and integrity as we can. We’re still a band, still vital human beings, so let’s play this stuff before we can’t anymore.”
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