January 18 at Jackson Rancheria Casino, Jackson, CA
January 19 at The UC Theater, Berkeley, CA
January 20 at The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
February 13 and 14 at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Review and Pictures: Marie Randall
Prince’s legendary band The Revolution recently played three nights in Northern California: Jackson Rancheria Casino on January 18, The UC Theater in Berkeley on January 19, and the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco on January 20. As it turns out, these Northern California shows would be the final U.S. dates of their nearly two year tour. Three weeks later, the band embarked on a much-anticipated European tour, with stops in Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, and two nights at the O2 Empire Shepherds Bush, London on February 13 and 14. The London shows would mark the end of the tour.
The Revolution consists of the “classic” Purple Rain era line-up of the band: bassist Mark “BrownMark” Brown, drummer Bobby “Z” Rivkin, keyboardist Matt “Dr.” Fink, Keyboardist Lisa Coleman, and guitarist Wendy Melvoin. Prince dissolved the Revolution after the tour for the Parade album in 1986. He was to have many bands in the years that followed, but none seemed to endear themselves to fans quite like The Revolution.
The band members reached out to one another after the sudden death of Prince in April of 2016 as a way to process their grief. It was then that they decided to go out on the road to connect with fans and help them with their grief, but more importantly, to help them celebrate Prince and his music. Their first shows took place at 1st Ave in Minneapolis, the birthplace of Purple Rain, in September of 2016. The official tour commenced in April of 2017 with shows at Prince’s Celebration at Paisley Park.
Many fans had waited 30+ years to again see The Revolution. And many fans were too young when Prince was with the Revolution and had never seen the band. So anticipation and expectations were high. And The Revolution delivered a funky, moving, sentimental, and celebratory purple vibe each night.
Make no mistake, this was not a “tribute” band or a reunion of estranged band members out for a cash grab. These were the people, in guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s words, “a rag-tag group of people culled by Prince” that contributed to, and accompanied him on his rise to fame.
Melvoin was the group’s de facto mouthpiece during the concerts and each night prior to going into the anthemic “Purple Rain“, she’d take a few moments (usually more, LOL, but she was always apologetic to the band and crowd for being “verbose”) to talk to the audience. She explained The Revolution made the choice to be together to be their best selves in the worst of circumstances. She addressed the questions people inevitably asked them, “Who was going to sing the songs, who was going to ‘be’ Prince, etc.” The answer was no one. No one but the fans. The fans had to take the songs back and create a future for the songs. The fans were Uptown. They were Paisley Park. The Revolution were merely the pit band for the fans.
On the last few shows, her words seemed to take on a more nostalgic tone. The theme of her recollections was nineteen, the “magical” age each band member was when they joined Prince. Each night she recounted how each band member came to be in the band. Bobby Z was the first, the “oldest and wisest,” there at the beginning, and who she jokingly said joined Prince in 1952 and used to drive him around and make him sandwiches. Then came Dr. Fink. Wendy noted only hardcore fans would remember Fink used to don striped prisoner’s garb before adopting the doctor persona. Then, “hippie” Lisa got the call to audition. Prince picked her up from the airport in his Fiat. Lisa-gasp!-asked him if she could smoke in his car and he, more shockingly, said yes. When they got to his house, he told her the piano was downstairs where she could warm up. He then went upstairs to call his manager to say he didn’t think Lisa was going to work out, but as soon as he heard Lisa play, he told his manager, “never mind.” Then came Mark who was working in a restaurant making pancakes and after work playing bass in a band called Fantasy. Wendy noted, “no one could bring the funk and rumble better than Mark. Plus he makes a killer stack of pancakes.” Wendy recalled how she and her twin sister Susannah snuck into LA’s Starwood nightclub, both of them being underage at the time, to go dancing. They heard the song “Soft and Wet” and Wendy asked the DJ who the girl was singing. The DJ informed her it was a guy named Prince and he was…19. A few short years later, Wendy, herself aged 19, would get the gig as the Revolution’s guitarist.
Brown, Mark and Wendy shared the bulk of vocal duties, but for a few songs guest singers took over vocal duties. For the three shows in Northern California, Kip Blackshire took the helm as lead singer. Fans will know Kip as a singer and keyboardist from Prince’s New Power Generation band.
A special surprise guest for fans at the Northern California shows was Wendy’s twin sister Susannah Melvoin, vocalist in The Family/Fdeluxe, and herself a member of a later version of the Revolution.
For the majority of the tour, MN native Stokley Williams took on the job of front-man as he did for the London gigs. Stokley’s very athletic and energetic and night after night did an amazing job of engaging the crowd. Fans will know Stokley as the lead singer of the band Mint Condition and a favorite of Prince.
The setlists for the Northern California dates remained unchanged from other US dates in the tour, but for the London shows (and other Euro dates ) the song “All Day All Night” was dropped and “17 Days“, a deep cut and fan favorite, was added. Also back in the set list for the London and Euro shows was the beautiful ballad “Sometimes It Snows In April“, performed by just Wendy and Lisa. During this song, a hush descended and cries could be heard throughout the audience. A poignant and cathartic moment, as was the entire show. But it was then back to party mode.
The energy for the London gigs was off the charts. It was cold and rainy, but hours before the doors opened, the lines wrapped around the O2. London Prince fans were chomping at the bit to see his band. And at times during the shows it looked as if the band members themselves were overwhelmed. It seemed as though they were taking it all in, one last time. On the final night, as they took their final bows, handed out picks, drumsticks, scarves, setlists, and touched outstretched hands, each member had tears in their eyes.
Setlist for Northern California shows:
Take Me With You
All Day All Night
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
I Would Die For You
Baby I’m A Star
Setlist for London Shows:
Take Me With You
Sometimes It Snows In April
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
I Would Die for You
Baby I’m A Star