House of Blues
June 15, 2017
The leading thoughts walking into House of Blues Thursday night all bordered around excitement. People brought vinyl albums and wore T-shirts and other mementos in remembrance. They wanted to dance, they wanted to sing and, ultimately, they wanted to let out something they had tried to repress and bury since last April. The Revolution, meanwhile, Prince’s original disciples and his most popular band, were tasked with the unthinkable — delivering two hours of Prince hits without breaking down in tears with the crowd.
There’s an eternity within The Revolution, a combination of Los Angeles guitar players and keyboardists (Wendy and Lisa) along with Minneapolis percussion (Bobby Z), bass (Brown Mark) and keyboard (Doctor Fink). They feel timeless even though they know that at any moment, they could get called to a rock concert up above. They knew it, we knew it. There wasn’t going to be any new music played on Thursday night. It was left up to the crowd to determine what wave of a Prince record would come next.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Revolution,” played on the PA system, a nod to how they were commonly introduced in Purple Rain and each member took his or her respective place. When they opened with “Computer Blue,” you drowned out every single thought rummaging through your mind about them being overwhelmed by this tour, by this moment. He’s been gone 16 months, but it feels like it was yesterday. For this band, his band, to be going on tour, playing his music, felt more appropriate rather than exploitative. Because who else would play this music with as much precision and crispness as they would?
Brown Mark would signal when certain songs were made, taking us back to specific years and eras of The Purple One. They came in droves. “America” segued into “Mountains” before being backdoored by “Automatic” and “Take Me With U.” The band was building towards something bigger with every addition. Once Mint Condition lead singer Stokley Williams appeared as the lone guest vocalist of the night, fans realized that it was tasked to him to get the most suggestive Prince records out vocally. (Bilal is the other guest for the tour on select dates.)
Williams is a capable vocalist, a man who can at least say he has been vouched for by Prince on more than one occasion. The pixieish rock of “Uptown” and sultriness of “D.M.S.R” played right into his hands. At times, his vocals fluctuated between what he would normally do on a Mint Condition record, the fluttering runs and piercing notes. In others, Williams showed flashes that he had definitely danced to and sang a bevy of Prince songs growing up.
Prince diehards may recall the deluxe edition of Purple Rain with “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden” but Wendy stopped the performance of “Our Destiny” before it could even get going. “Fuck this,” she said. “We’re doing this right.” It was as if Prince was right there behind her, giving one of his magnificent side-eyes as the band screwed up onstage. So they resumed playing, only teasing fans for the monsoon of early-1980s Prince smashes. “Raspberry Beret” into a slower “Erotic City,” the rousing feels of “Let’s Work” popping into “1999.” After slowing things back downward with “Paisley Park” and a rousing performance of “Controversy,” things began to feel like a funeral.
“We were the first people, the five of us…we called each other when Prince died,” Wendy said. “And we met at my house in Studio City and said, ‘What the fuck happened?’ So we figured the best thing to do was to give it back to you guys. It doesn't belong to anybody; it belongs to you.”
Thirty-one Aprils ago, Wendy and Lisa along with Prince wrote “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a song that has now become his de facto elegy with “Purple Rain.” People closed their eyes and clenched their fists, doing their best not to cry or ultimately break down. On the twenty-first day of April in 1986, the song was penned. Thirty years later, it was the last day we had with him. This couldn’t end in tears and sadness, one thought.
The band didn’t hesitate by letting the final 35 minutes of their set feel more like church. The opening keys of “Let’s Go Crazy” jolted us out of the feel of dread and gloom; “Delirious” and “Kiss” made complete strangers make short, flirtatious eyes at one another. Even the biggest guitar solo of Prince’s life, the opening to “When Doves Cry,” was nailed to near perfection by Wendy. Williams had done his best not to blend both Mint Condition and Prince into the record, but it was obvious by his dance moves and delivery that he couldn’t help himself. How could he? Anybody in attendance would have done their best to add an extra ad-lib or purse their lips to drop a floor writhing moan or two.
Everything came crashing back down to a purple-drenched Earth though when the opening guitar chords of “Purple Rain” began. People knew why they were here. It was their form of grieving, of dancing and reliving and remembering. Hands waved, phones lit up and swayed back and forth. More tears were shed because it is quite simply one of the greatest ballads to ever exist. True, the band left the stand for a moment to thunderous ovation before playing off a solid two-fer with “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby, I’m A Star.”
Nobody inside the swollen and packed House of Blues wanted to leave without personally telling The Revolution thank you. But this was exactly like a repast, a communal outpouring of emotion and memory. Once everything cleared out and a Prince impersonator stood on the HOB floor in full Purple Rain regalia did it truly hit. This was every facet of a funeral from opening words to benediction and closing remarks. The Revolution are not only capable of getting you through one of the hardest moments of your life, they’re capable of carrying the legacy on too.
Personal Bias: I've made up my own lyrics to “Erotic City” to fake out my parents.
The Crowd: Imagine a crowd of white, black, Hispanic, old, young, those barely old enough to work a Big Wheel and more deciding that there was one unifying color. Purple suits, purple T-shirts with Prince’s face on them, the symbol. This was rock summer camp for the soul. The disciples had come to worship.
Overheard In the Crowd: “I’m not going to The Foundation Room unless you promise me The Revolution!”
Random Notebook Dump: After the show, I ventured near the loading dock. A group of fans were taking in the last bit of what they had just seen. One man had a poster, complete with a disc and ticket stubs from the Summit shows in 1985. Another wrote a Prince-style football jersey and got to take photos with Bobby Z and Doctor Fink backstage. As drums and equipment got loaded up, he waited for The Revolution to sign the poster. He, like many of us, wanted one last moment to savor it. No other way around it.
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SHOW ME HOW
THE REVOLUTION SET LIST
Take Me With U
Our Destiny / Roadhouse Garden
Sometimes It Snows in April
Let's Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I'm a Star