The last time the Revolution performed together, in 2012, they left a spare guitar onstage for their estranged leader, Prince, just in case he showed up to jam. He never arrived. This Thursday, when Wendy, Lisa, and all the gang reunited once again for the first of three sold-out nights in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, at First Avenue — the legendary, 1,500-capacity club where Purple Rain’s iconic concert scenes were filmed — the circumstances were obviously very different. There would be no hope of a full reunion. But the late Prince’s presence was still definitely felt on this highly emotional evening, from the moment a noticeably choked-up Wendy Melvoin took the stage alongside keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Dr. Fink, bassist BrownMark, drummer Bobby Z, and special guests Dez Dickerson and André Cymone.
“I encourage every one of you to take every one of these songs and make them your own — sing along, so he can hear you!” Melvoin said at the start of the two-hour set, before launching into “Let’s Go Crazy.” It was an undoubtedly joyous opener, but the song’s lyrics about death, the afterworld, and especially elevators took on darker, deeper, much sadder new meaning in this context — as did other classic Prince lines, like “Some people want to die, so they can be free” in “Controversy,” or “If I gotta die I’m gonna listen to my body tonight” in “1999,” or “It’s such a shame our friendship had to end” in “Purple Rain.” (“You can cry, if you want to,” BrownMark sweetly told the audience during the latter song.)
At one time, 32 years ago, a little 5’2” man had filled up this little room, and the silver screen, with his massive presence. Melvoin and company couldn’t compensate for his absence, of course. All night long, it felt like something (or more specifically, someone) was missing. But in front of a purple-clad crowd that included loyal locals as well as far-flung fans who’d traveled from Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, New York, and England just for this once-in-a-lifetime show, they did their old boss proud — even if at times the band members, particularly Melvoin, almost seemed too overwhelmed with emotion to continue.
“If Prince saw this right now, he’d be in tears,” Melvoin declared at one point. The most gut-wrenching moment of the night came when Melvoin later asked the audience to be quiet, explaining that the stripped-down song she and Coleman were about to perform was so intense, they needed total silence in order to power through it. That song was “Sometimes It Snows It April,” a grief-stricken ballad that has taken on great weight since Prince died this past April 21. Spectators at First Avenue openly, messily sobbed throughout — and at times, it almost appeared Melvoin herself was about to break down. But she kept it together and delivered a powerful performance that connected with every fan in the room, all of them still in mourning less than five months after Prince’s shocking death.
However, despite the show’s many bittersweet and poignant moments, for the most part the mood in the room was celebratory — a glam slam, a true rave un2 the joy fantastic. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Dickerson excitedly told the audience, and the Revolution certainly seemed to be making up for lost time, playing with gusto. Even the occasional flubs — like a few lyrical missteps, or an awkward moment when Melvoin tripped and fell, but leapt right back onto her feet like a stealthy ninja — didn’t slow them down one bit.
Happy highlights of the night included a real sexy MF, neo-soul sensation Bilal — fresh off his star turn this past June on the BET Awards’ stellar Prince tribute — lending his otherworldly screechy falsetto and sultry stage presence to “The Beautiful Ones,” “Private Joy,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Kiss.” (“That’s a gift,” Melvoin marveled at Bilal’s octave-straddling vocals.)
Later, Prince’s Purple Rain co-star Apollonia Kotero appeared and tossed costume-jewelry earrings into the crowd for “good luck” (a cute nod to the movie scene when she gave The Kid a single gold loop). And during the encore, Prince’s brother Omarr Baker, ex-fiancée Suzannah Melvoin (twin sister of Wendy, and the inspiration for “Nothing Compares 2 U”), and ex-wives Mayte and Manuela Testolini joined the celebration, for a boisterous all-star singalong of “Baby I’m a Star.”
In the end, the fans at First Avenue and the band members onstage weren’t really partying like it was 1999. They were partying like it was 2016: grieving a major loss, acknowledging the sad passage of time and the fact that Prince can never be replaced — but still exuberantly celebrating the man’s music and legacy. “I can feel the love right here in my heart,” Cymone proclaimed at the end of the evening. Said Melvoin: “It’s been heavy, huh? We miss him a lot… Know that he loved all of you [Minneapolitans] so much. This is his home. This is where it all happened. It’s our great honor to be on this stage together to do this for him. We will always love him, forever and ever.”
The Revolution’s full First Avenue setlist was:
Let’s Go Crazy
Do It All Night
Little Red Corvette
Sometimes It Snows in April
The Beautiful Ones
When Doves Cry
Baby I’m a Star