Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Revolution Honor Prince With ‘Purple Rain’ 40th Anniversary Show

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“We’re missing our commander in chief,” guitarist Wendy Melvoin told Billboard ahead of Celebration 2024, a five-day event in Minneapolis that marks the 40th anniversary of Prince & The Revolution’s Purple Rain. “It’s a little strange to do those things without him there,” keyboardist Lisa Coleman softly echoed.

The Revolution — Wendy, Lisa, Bobby Z., Brownmark and Dr. Fink – disbanded in the mid ‘80s, reunited briefly in 2012 and has been back together since 2016, the year Prince unexpectedly died at age 57. But even eight years into their reunion, it felt like the band had something to prove on Friday (June 21) night. First Avenue was where the jaw-dropping musical sequences for 1984’s Purple Rain movie where filmed, and next Thursday (June 25) will be the 40-year anniversary of the blockbuster LP that made the Purple One an international pop star. (Purple Rain was his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, where it reigned for 24 weeks, gave Prince the first two of his Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” and saw him earn biggest-selling single of 1984 with the former.)

So expectations for the Revolution’s Friday (June 21) concert were high. When a screen rolled up to reveal the ready-to-roar quintet, the audience cheered (and whipped out their phones – the revolution will be televised) as the Revolution opened the night with “Let’s Go Crazy.” Melvoin and Brownmark traded lead vocals, letting the crowd (one well-versed in the Purple catalog) chip in exactly where you would want to sing along anyway. They followed it with “Computer Blue,” and while Melvoin’s guitar work felt every bit as incendiary as on the studio recording, the absent of Prince undoubtedly hung large over the first couple songs. That was hardly a shock to anyone — after all, Prince was the mastermind, the maestro and the electric centerpiece of the band – but it was, as Coleman put it to Billboard ahead of the show, “a little strange.”

But when they hit “Crazy” B-side “Erotic City” for the fifth song in the setlist, something shifted. Digging into the robo-funk, sensual synths and licentious lyrics, the Revolution locked into those curious, off-kilter grooves that helped them elevate Prince to his commercial peak so many decades ago. And perhaps more importantly, they seemed to draw strength and confidence from the audience, a crowd of long-time fans who grew more enthusiastic with each number, easily falling into the rhythm of singing choruses (such as “Raspberry Beret”) or shouting them when necessary (“Take Me With U”).

By the time special guest Judith Hill – a singer-songwriter whose 2015 debut album was co-produced by Prince – joined them on stage, the Revolution was undeniable. Taking lead on the yearning, lusty vocal showcase “The Beautiful Ones,” Hill offered up effortlessly silky runs and skyscraping, soulful peaks, absolutely dominating a song that’s near impossible to cover. She also shone on “When Doves Cry,” particularly during the ad-libs, which felt loose and unpredictable in the best possible way – nothing too far afield from the studio original, but distinctive enough that it felt fresh.

By that point, the Revolution was on fire – even when they played a lesser hit single like “America” from Around the World in a Day, they gave it an urgency and bite that made it even more exciting than some of the bigger hits. That being said, the hits still sounded great – particularly “1999” (which featured lead vocals from Coleman on the original), which had First Avenue dancing like it was two thousand-zero-zero, party over, oops, out of time. But the band’s time wasn’t up – at least not until the requisite three-song punch of “I Would Die 4 U” (yes, plenty of folks in the crowd recreated the hand choreo from the film), “Baby, I’m a Star” — which gave keyboard player Dr. Fink his moment to shine in those scrubs – and “Purple Rain.”

Before wrapping the set with that romantic, elegiac ballad, Melvoin took a moment to address the crowd candidly. “Thank you for the beautiful night. We love doing this for you guys,” she said. “For real, we’re missing him here a lot. No one is trying to be him on this stage. We’re just trying to do him proud.” Wiping away some tears from her eyes, Melvoin noted the night was a bit of a full-circle moment given that the first time she ever played “Purple Rain” was at First Avenue when she was just 19 years old. “It’s a bit of a — do I dare say — mind f-ck. Sorry. You know me, he knows me,” she said, tipping to the absent Prince, who despite his famously filthy lyrics rarely used profanity. “This is cognitive dissonance for me.”

Dissonance be damned, the finale was everything the audience wanted. With a purple light drenching First Avenue, the Revolution and Hill offered up a faithful rendition (even the guitar solos were note-for-note) of “Purple Rain” at the exact venue Prince famously performed it 40 years ago. The man himself has been gone for eight years, but when a crowd are gathered together in his name and singing that sublime chorus, his spirit is there.

The Revolution plays First Avenue again on Saturday (June 22), with Morris Day and New Power Generation rocking the Minnesota State Theatre the same night. Celebration 2024 continues through Monday (June 24).



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