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Prince's Revolution keeps the purple reign alive
The Revolution would not exist if it weren’t for Prince.
But now it’s learning to exist without him.
In the wake of Prince’s shocking 2016 death, the group — which backed the late music icon from 1984’s smash “Purple Rain” through 1986 — has regrouped and is touring once again. The quintet isn’t doing it lightly, or for any reason other than it’s necessary for the individual musicians and, they think, for the fans.
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“In the spirit of full disclosure we’re ambivalent,” guitarist Wendy Melvoin says by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re not attempting to try to go out there and replace him or mimic or anything. We’re just compelled to kind of put our feet in the water and see whether or not we can find some kind of place for this grief to land.
“We’re going to take it to different areas and see if we can let the fans have a place to kind of taste a little bit of him. We’re just gonna go out there and see if we can give a taste of what was, and hopefully the fans are gonna go ‘Thanks,’ and it’ll help us, too.”
Though keyboardists Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman, bassist Mark Brown and drummer Bobby Z (nee Rivkin) were playing with Prince before “Purple Rain,” he dubbed the band the Revolution for that project and the three consecutive platinum-or-better albums that followed. It was his most prolific touring ensemble and most collaborative outfit, breaking through his one-man-band proclivities to make genuine songwriting and arranging contributions.
“To me that era for him was such a culmination of everything he wanted to be,” says Melvoin, 53, who replaced original Prince guitarist Dez Dickerson in 1983 and, after the Revolution, worked with Coleman in the duo Wendy & Lisa, which recently has been writing film and TV scores. “He made no apologies and he wasn’t fighting as hard to prove himself.
“What we gave to him was his freedom, a true, safe environment to really explore every part of himself. None of us were the virtuosos that he had towards the end of his life, who could play circles around any of us — like 5,000 notes in 10 seconds. We were the musicians that would play one note and one note well. We became the freight train, which makes for a better band, and he could feel safe knowing we were happy to give him exactly what he wanted from each of us.”
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The Revolution reunited just once before, for a 2012 American Heart Association benefit, sans Prince, in Minneapolis. Melvoin, meanwhile, last saw him during early 2016, shortly before his death, in Los Angeles. Afterward, Prince’s family asked the Revolution to regroup for a memorial tribute, which led to a three-night stand last year at the First Avenue in Minneapolis, where the concert scenes for “Purple Rain” were filmed. The shows were cathartic for the musicians a well as the fans, Melvoin says.
“The first night it was so sad,” she remembers. “There was a lot of beautiful energy and it was high contrast for sure, all fantastic and all horrible swimming at the same time. By night, three we were smiling from beginning to end, and when we walked off stage the five of us went into a back room, and I remember Bobby just broke down and started to cry.
“We all sort of had this moment where it felt like this was almost too much. But at the same time we made people smile and they felt good and they got to grab onto at least the legacy of him so that his death didn’t feel so permanent.”
Fink added that band members and audience are “consoling each other” these days.
“We’re all incredibly shocked and saddened by his passing,” explains the keyboardist, who stuck with Prince through 1991 and is part of the tribute band The Purple Experience. “We loved him quite a lot. Even though I’m pretty far removed from working with him, I never stopped communicating with him over the years and always respected him as a musician.
“You can’t deny what a talent he was. It’s hard, because you think about how he went, how he passed, and it’s very hard to take. It’s just not fitting for someone of his stature to have gone the way he did.”
The Revolution’s members are braced for those who might see the reunion shows as a cash-in on Prince’s death. “There’s going to be so many people out there who think what we’re doing is wrong, but we don’t feel that way,” she says. “But, y’know, it just felt like we got his permission. I know that’s really presumptuous and so vague and new agey, but we do feel like we got his permission to do what we’re doing and make people feel really good. That’s the only way I can speak to it.”
The Revolution hopes guest singers will join the band through its 26-date North American tour, and the group also hopes to take the reunion overseas. The group will be heard further as new music emerges from Prince’s prodigious vaults. First up is a remastered version of “Purple Rain” in June, featuring two discs of unreleased bonus tracks. And Fink says there’s more where that came from.
“At the end of 1986 there were definitely two albums in the can that never saw the light of day,” Fink confirms. “It’s stuff that was recorded with the group and co-written with the group, just a continuation of what we were doing after the ‘Parade’ album and before Prince made the decision to disband the group at that point. We’ve made an open offer to Prince’s family to put those out as soon as possible. Hopefully that will happen.”
And new music from the current Revolution is possible, too.
“We keep talking about that, but it seems too far away,” Melvoin says. “I mean, Lisa and I can write for days, but we’re not, like, pop artists. We’ve been really avant garde, off-the-grid musicians for years now and spend most of our time making music for film and TV.
“To do a pop record with the Revolution ... we have to figure out whether that would work and if people would want it. For now we’re just gonna go out and play and do these gigs and see how people feel about it and worry about anything else later.”
• If You Go: The Revolution performs Saturday, May 20 (doors open at 7 p.m.) at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50 in advance, $45 day of show. Call 313-833-9700 or visit majesticdetroit.com. Revolution bassist Brown Mark will host an official afterparty starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Bleu Detroit, 1540 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Call 313-974-7799 or visit bleudetroit.com.
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