By Christopher David
In the grand scheme of truly great performers, it’s a little humbling to consider how few we’ve actually had since the inception of what we know as popular music, in any form. Losing two in one year was tough. Perhaps no one in recent memory, though, in spite of great losses throughout the last decade as the golden age of rock n’ roll hits the sunset, was as much of a shock to our cultural system as Prince.
The loss of such a monstrous talent at such a young age is something that, honestly, the musical community – and as such, our culture at large – will feel for a very long time, in ways that many of us probably can’t even realize yet. Art works that way; it ebbs and flows. But the loss of Prince was something different – something truly painful – and for any music fan, it led to some serious reflection on the career of someone who, at times, truly seemed apart from the rest of us.
At no time did that otherworldly quality resonate more than during the heyday of the Purple One’s pop masterpiece, 1984’s Purple Rain. There will never be another record like it. It was a snapshot of a creative genius at the peak of his formidable powers. But what isn’t recognized often enough is the fact that one of the great bands in rock n’ roll history backed him on that and several other records – Prince tends to be a singular entity in the minds of the public, and that, in a certain way, is a shame. Because The Revolution was never just a backing band, and they proved it in spades on their two-night run at Metro this past week.
Opening with the electro-psychedelic crunch of Purple Rain‘s “Computer Blue,” bassist/vocalist Brown Mark, guitarist/vocalist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Lisa Coleman, drummer Bobby Z, and unmistakable keyboardist Dr. Matt Fink as The Revolution blazed through a 21-song setlist highlighting the best moments of their four album run with Prince, from 1983’s 1999 through 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon.
The chemistry of the band showed from the second they hit the stage, which spoke to the depth of their history together, and the fullness of Mark and Bobby Z’s rhythm section gave the impression that the band had never left the road – revisit any show from the Purple Rain era and you’ll hear what I mean. There was always a sense – at least, in my mind – that Wendy and Lisa provided more than they were given credit for, and at no time was that more apparent than in one of the show’s rare moments of open sadness, a piano-acoustic version of “Sometimes it Snows in April,” which left no dry eyes and led to a gentle singalong from the crowd as Melvoin struggled to get through the song without emotion interfering.
But we were all at that point, weren’t we? After all, that’s why The Revolution decided to tour. “We’re up here tonight because, like you, we’re feeling things and we don’t know how to do it,” Melvoin said at one point, and that summed up the evening. But if catharsis was the result, a raging dance-funk party was the way they got us there, with stellar versions of classics like “Uptown,” “D.M.S.R.,” and “Controversy” setting the tone. This was a night of celebration, ultimately, and even playful versions of sleeper classic “Paisley Park” as well as surprising teases of some unreleased tunes (“Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Gardens”) were intimate side notes to a set that mainly played to a sense of shared triumph for having had Prince as a part of our lives – be it musically, personally, or both – and collectively celebrating the fact that that was a very real kind of magic in and of itself. By the time the night drew to a close with the entire second side of Purple Rain, capped by a blazing version of “Baby, I’m A Star,” there was a sense of closure. Not for the music – that’ll never go away even a little bit. Not for the grief – that will still take a while to heal over. But for the sense of loss, perhaps. “Keep playing the records and singing the songs,” Melvoin shouted as the band left the stage. The Revolution brought us the records, and, at least for a couple of nights, they hand-delivered the songs in grand fashion. And for a couple of hours, with purple lights bathing the entire place, maybe the loss didn’t hurt quite as much.
For more on The Revolution including current tour, click here
For photos from The Revolution live in Chicago at the Metro, click here
Setlist: The Revolution – Metro, Chicago, IL, April 24th, 2017