By Sam Bleazard
Paisley Park was in their hearts…
Brown Mark, Dr Fink, Bobby Z, Wendy & Lisa – the soldiers of The Revolution. Prince and the Revolution, the band that turned the 80s a psychedelic shade of purple with a unique new brand of funk n roll. Taking on Madonna, taking on Bruce Springsteen, and more than holding their own with a mysterious brand of paisley pattern subversiveness.
Prince was always the edgier cousin to Michael Jackson, as The Rolling Stones were the bad boys to The Beatles mop tops. And as de facto bandleader Wendy Melvoin explains to a packed theatre, “Prince wanted us to be his Fleetwood Mac”.
Now in their 50s, the purple one’s original mega-star band – made famous by the multi-million selling Purple Rain movie and album – have lost none of their sophisticated musicianship, or their funky chops. The Revolution are the band that knew Prince back in the day in ‘uptown’ as the semi-regular guy, before he became ‘that’ Prince, with most of them joining up when they were only 19 years old.
Less a tribute show, and more of a self-confessed therapy session for his original stadium band, the set list rattles through Mountains, Erotic City, Raspberry Beret, Let’s Work, Take Me With U, 17 Days, 1999, Delirious and Computer Blue. With the immortal opening line – “Wendy, is the water warm enough?”, “Yes Lisa.” being wheeled out one more time, much to the delight of a sell-out crowd (which includes mega-fan Beverley Knight).
One of the highlights of the show is a pin-drop moment, which features just Wendy on acoustic guitar and Lisa on piano with a heart-rending version of the Parade album’s Sometimes It Snows In April. One of Prince’s greatest ever ballads creating an emotionally charged moment over three decades on from the original recording, and almost three years since his passing on 21 April 2016. The date now being all the more resonant as the song was composed on that very day exactly 30 years earlier.
The group are bolstered by Stokeley Williams, former lead singer of Minneapolis based group Mint Condition, who provides a crackle and an energy on the new wave funk of Uptown and DMSR – trading dance moves and spins with Brown Mark. He’s also there for classics like Kiss, and an encore which includes I Would Die 4 U and Baby I’m A Star, the latter two tracks with a nod to the Purple Rain movie.
Another highlight is the rhythmic interplay of bass player and guitarist, but also a piano solo by Lisa which incorporates ambient music, classical and jazz in its phrasing. The band sensibly let the audience sing Purple Rain with them, while Wendy Melvoin plays the signature guitar licks and lines which are forever burnt onto the subconscious of popular music and radio stations the world over.
Wendy also explains in a speech at the end that the band are considering future tours where Prince’s ‘deeper cuts’ might be played, but for now this crowd pleasing set ends with stories, of how Lisa almost never made it through the first audition, of how Mark knew one of Prince’s first girlfriends, or how seeing the artist at work close up for the first time changed all of their lives, as they went on to become part of a band that defined the style of a decade and changed the world of popular music forever.
A long wave goodbye to several standing ovations followed, with the feeling in the Empire that…Paisley Park really was in their hearts.