It goes without saying that anyone connected with Prince has been deeply and passionately mourning his passing last April. If it isn’t those who worshiped him (YouTube eulogies from R&B crooners such as Miguel and Frank Ocean), there have been eulogies in print and on screen from fellow Minnesotans with whom Prince collaborated, such as the Time’s Morris Day.
No one’s tears, though, weigh as heavily and flow so freely as those from the Revolution, with whom Prince played, palled around, and made the classic Purple Rain: guitarist Wendy Melvoin, bassist Brown Mark (Mark Brown), drummer Bobby Z (Robert B. Rivkin), keyboardist Matt “Dr.” Fink, and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Coleman.
Though Prince played most of the instruments on his albums, from 1979 to 1986, some configuration of this multiracial, multigender, multi-sexually-identifying outfit made several studio albums, two soundtracks, a handful of MTV-worthy videos, and wore outrageously frilly shirts, pantaloons, and ridiculously high hair together. Most usually and potently, Prince and the Revolution roared in a live setting – which is all the more rocking reason for this aforementioned crew to celebrate its boss/guitarist/singer in similar fashion with a reunion tour that hits Theatre of Living Arts on April 29 and 30.
Prince had other bands after the Revolution, but never one that was such a physical and psychic extension of him as this quintet was.
Having Brown, Melvoin, Fink, Coleman, and Rivkin on one conference phone line at one time is a portrait in full-blown Prince-ness, happy and sad, as, on more than one occasion, someone seemed to be choking back tears and welled-up emotion. “As soon as I heard, it was this sense of cognitive dissonance that I’m still not certain has ended,” Melvoin says of Prince's death.
“When I first heard the news that he passed, it was a total reflex for me to call Bobby, Matt, and Mark – obviously Wendy – because it’s family, even though some of its members hadn’t heard from the others,” says Coleman, who still works with Melvoin as a soundtrack recording duo (they also made solo albums as Wendy & Lisa) and long ago, during their Prince era, shared a romantic relationship. “The five of us were immediately drawn to each other in this sadness.”
Each Revolution member recalled where and how he or she heard of Prince’s death, as if reminiscing about the passing of John F. Kennedy. “I was on the 19th song of my own album when I heard,” says Brown Mark. “I stopped immediately, put the whole thing on hold, and haven’t looked back yet. This new adventure of the Revolution tour is too intriguing.”
Fink was working on music for a new streaming service in his office/studio when he saw a news report that someone had been found dead at Prince’s Paisley Park complex. “I immediately thought of Prince – but didn’t know for sure – then found out from a friend in the police department that it was him. My blood ran cold.”
“The first time I met him, he seemed truly mysterious, reptilian even,” says Rivkin, who drove Prince around during the days before becoming his drummer. “I wore him down, or he wore me down,” he says and laughs. “He never slept.” Like Fink, Rivkin heard the sad news on television. “It just didn’t make sense when I saw that – he seemed immortal.”
All the Revolution members, each a Minnesotan save for Coleman and Melvoin, discussed how they got to Prince’s employ (“I loved him, but I wasn’t always comfortable wearing the lingerie he wanted us to wear,” says Melvoin) and what good, funny times there were to be had as if repeating Charlie Murphy and Dave Chappelle’s famous “shirts vs. blouses” routine.
“He really was a great basketball player and did like to make pancakes,” says Fink. “Prince liked his pranks, man,” says Brown Mark.
Reminiscing is one thing, but making something real, sturdy, and lasting out of their cojoined sorrow – sadder still as each had been in various discussions with Prince to reunite the Revolution – was yet another in a series of reflexive actions. They first got together at First Avenue – Prince's home-away-from-home – where Purple Rain’s concert sequences were filmed. “It was like a séance … that turned celebratory,” Melvoin says.
Good vibes and holy feeling prevailed, hence a tour that finds band members running through their catalog together without real benefit of any front person. “Who could front us?" asks Melvoin. “Who could be that person – it just feels like an empty hole that we have to fill with something joyous.”
Maybe the audiences at the TLA will sing the songs from Revolution-era Prince (“I Would Die 4 U” to “Sign O’ the Times”) and maybe guest locals (e.g., Bilal) will sing his emotive hits.
“No one replaces Prince,” says Coleman.The Revolution play Saturday, April 29, at 9 p.m. and Sunday, April 30, at 8 p.m. at Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St., $35-$40, ticketmaster.com.