Prince Tribute. The Revolution Reunites for 3 Nights at First Avenue
by Sara Savoy
A Pilgrimage: a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of devotion.
They came from all corners of the Earth. Belgium, Australia, Japan, every corner of the United States…small towns, big cities and everything in between. It didn’t matter who you talked to, they had all made a journey from somewhere far and somewhere within themselves to honor the one and only Prince Rogers Nelson at the 3 night concert put on by the Revolution, Prince’s backing band from the early 1980’s.
It has been over 4 months since that fateful day in April that rocked the music world and turned the entire world purple. There has been no tribute at all whatsoever during these long 4 months for the fans. Many of us felt left out. Prince let us into his world in a way that no other celebrity ever has. He welcomed us into his home on a regular basis. He knew many of us by name. He never made us feel less-than. But on April 21, the gates of Paisley Park locked up and there was a sudden, clear delineation between the estate (whatever that means) and the followers. There were several tributes, but none of them included us. During the latest one at Paisley Park one fan commented “It is almost as if they are just trying to have yet another tribute that the public is not invited to.” It was very clear to us that being included was over.
I was one of the lucky ones that got to spend a lot of time at Paisley Park over the last 3 years. It felt like my second home. I know they are opening it up for tours now but I have no desire to go…this is a very different Post-Prince world and it is no question that it is now a business. The announcement that they were trying to book Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars for the “Official fan Tribute” in October could not make that any clearer. A lot of us have met that news with valid resentment. Those commercial stars have nothing to do with Prince and that type of tribute could not be any farther from the Prince that I grew to know and love. If I sound a bit bitter please forgive me. I am struggling to accept how very different things have already become. Despite members of the representatives for the estates’ best efforts with their “Prince Army” and “Purple Army” Hashtags, we all sense the truth and can see straight through to it. Everything has changed and the fans have been struggling for 4 long months like a lost Nemo in a vast open ocean, trying to find our way home.
The Revolution played this weekend at First Avenue. It was supposed to be one show, but due to demand it grew into 3 nights. Some fans were disjointed. “Old Friends for Sale” was a common thread. They resentfully questioned the intentions after everything that has happened since April. I am happy to say that this ended up being a very sincere and loving tribute but I understand the skepticism.
I was there for all 3 nights. I have watched Purple Rain every single week for no less than 3-5 times a week for my entire adult life. I was not going to miss it. For days and days leading up to Thursday night I could not sleep, I could not eat and I was physically ill. I was so worried and so excited and so so so very sad. My physical body couldn’t deal with all of the emotions and my hands shook uncontrollably. I just needed this band that I loved so much to come through for me in the worst way.
I did not know what to expect. Living here in Minnesota you hear a lot of people say “I am a huge Prince fan” and then they say something to the effect of “He hasn’t had a hit in a long time though” …and you just know that they are one of the fans that got stuck in the Purple Rain era. I understand that that is a very important era for a lot of people, but there is a difference between those fans and the Prince Army. I was not sure who would be attending these concerts. I worried it would be fans just looking for a Purple Rain moment.
Standing in line on Thursday night it became apparent who was there. These were not casual fans. These were fans that emptied their rainy day savings piggy banks to travel very far…and they were grieving. They had made the pilgrimage to pay respects. They did not come to stand at the gates of Paisley Park just to take a photo to say that they had been there; they were there because they had lost someone that they really loved and they wanted to pay tribute. They were hurting deeply. These were my people.
These fans were fans of Purple Rain but had not been stuck there. They knew every word to the tracks from the vault played by the opening DJs inside of First Avenue. They spoke in inside information nuances. They knew every band member by name and recognized all of the VIP guests that included Prince’s ex wives, girlfriends, protégés, family and employees. It was very clear. First Avenue was full of purple and the Prince Army had reported for duty.
The Thursday night show began about 10pm and lasted for 2 solid hours. I was lucky enough to score a front row spot just underneath Wendy Melvoins’ feet. Within moments of the band taking the stage it was very apparent that the band was here to process and grieve and heal right along with us…through music. Their pain was sincere and it was glaringly apparent on their faces and by their energy and it was deep. The moment the lights went up I immediately started to sob uncontrollably. In order to contain myself I got out my phone and began to Livestream. I had to do something with my shaking hands. I got lightheaded and almost passed out. There were highs; there were lows, Wendy, Lisa, Dez, Dr Fink, BrownMark, BobbyZ…Andre… They were all there. We grieved together. The first night was all about our own sadness. We all wept openly and without shame.
During the entire set Prince’s Hohner guitar sat in the center of the stage. I noticed it right away “I think that is Prince’s guitar!” I said to my friends. At the end of the night, during the very last song, Wendy picked up that guitar and put it on. Yes, it was most certainly Prince’s. The unmistakable animal print strap that had been my very favorite one that he wore…wrapped around her like loving arms as she put it on. I remembered touching that strap one night that we got to see all of his instruments up close. It was the night of a dance party and the back parts of Paisley Park by the pool tables were all open for us to explore and I went up and gently touched each of his guitars. When Wendy put it on and began to play the opening bars of Purple Rain it was a perfect moment. It was overwhelmingly sad, but so very touching.
Prince did not want to reunite with the Revolution when he was alive. He purposefully and obviously did not show up 5 years ago during the first reunion for the Bobby Z benefit. There was an empty microphone there all night long that night as we waited with anticipation for him to show. In the end it felt like a cruel but expected snub but we understood it. It was apparent he did not want to go backwards and continued to move forward.
Despite the fact that Prince moved forward without them, the Revolution is a band full of authentic members that did not latch onto Prince in order to get famous. Prince was well on his way to stardom when Purple Rain came out, but this band truly knew him when. They were a family. There is no question that Purple Rain launched them all into mega fame…together. They made it big together. When Prince accepted awards, the band was by his side. Together they were part of arguably the best album and the best music movie of all time. The album sold over 22 million copies worldwide. All 5 of the title songs became massive worldwide hits. Purple Rain stayed at #1 on the Billboard charts (back when that actually meant something) for 24 consecutive weeks. At one point in 1984, this band simultaneously had the No. 1 album, single, and film in the US. The musical score won two Grammy’s and an Oscar, the only time this has ever been achieved. They did it all as a group. They traveled the world performing. Some people say they were only a band for two years as if that discounts all of this… but what happened during that timeframe was a lifetime of memories and monumental achievements. It was significant in history and in emotion and the love that this band has for their missing leader is real. I believe that even though he moved forward, Prince still loved them very much.
Seeing them come home to Minneapolis and play on that stage, where it all began for them…felt like witnessing the sealing of a full circle. It began there. It is fitting that we say goodbye there. While Wendy played the opening bars to Purple Rain she told us the story of how she first played those opening bars on that very stage when she was 18 years old. In 1983. Prince left her out there playing it over and over and over again… for 10 minutes. Now, we got to hear her play it again 33 years later… without him there… but wearing his guitar in a beautiful and heartfelt tribute. It was intense.
Friday brought a plethora of purple people touring all over the city. I was staying at the W Hotel and I watched from my view out my window as purple person after purple person appeared and stood by the music wall to take photos. They toured Paisley Park, the music wall… and obscure places such as the hospital where Prince was born. They were in search of a proper way to fill up that blazingly loud void that had been left in their hearts by a man that inspired them for a lifetime. None of it worked, but all of it helped heal… bit by bit. There was healing happening in Minneapolis this last weekend…all over the city, there was healing… and it was a beautiful thing to see.
The Friday night concert I was front row, left. Just underneath BrownMark and Andre Cymone. While we waited for the band to come out, Questlove spun Prince song after Prince song from his throne atop FirstAvenue. The entire crowd broke out in song. I have never heard so many people singing “Starfish and Coffee.” It reminded me of all of the times Prince would say “Go out and dance, there is nothing to see up here” …and I personally believe that he would have loved it.
Night one felt like it was all about our sadness, night 2 felt like it was all about Prince. This time I did not cry when the band came out. The band did not look sad, they looked lighter… as if they had released a thousand waves of sadness and were ready to take a step forward. They opened with the same song “Let’s Go Crazy” only this time instead of going crazy with grief we went crazy with dancing and singing and happy memories. All night long I kept looking up at the purple smoke filled light illuminating the band and could not help but picture Prince dancing and enjoying a thousand grieving fans that loved him and were healing through his music… delivered by the hands of those that loved him so. The Revolution.
Night 2 we actually stayed for the dance party. We danced to his music and I tried to enjoy it. The music was fantastic but I was honestly just going through the motions. I wasn’t quite ready to feel happy yet. But I was trying and that was a very big step. Just seeing First Avenue lit up with purple was amazing. There was just so much love in that room.
The 3 nights included appearances by Bilal, Kimbra (who Prince awarded the Grammy to in 2013), Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum (of Saturday Night Live fame and a Prince cover band named Princess), members of Prince’s family, his two ex wives(Mayte Garcia and Manuela Testolini), Apollonia Kotero, Brenda Bennett and Susannah Melvoin, among others.
As someone online said: “When your ex girlfriend shows up… then your other ex girlfriend… then your ex wife… then your other ex wife…”
It was very nice and Prince is the only man that could have that many women on the stage who still love him.
In the VIP area were rumors and sightings of 3eg and other Prince related employees of past and present. A replica of the Purple Rain motorcycle sat near the audience lit up in purple light. Regardless of all of this power, center stage was really just the love that we all share for this amazing man.
During the concerts there were many stories shared. Apollonia came out the first night and had a big hoop earring on. “Would you like one of these?” she teased to the crowd who all completely understood the reference to one of the most famous scenes in the Purple Rain movie. Then she threw it to the crowd… then threw a handful more. This scene was repeated throughout the 3 nights with a different story and a different flare. I love Apollonia. I have a picture of her in a corset framed in my bathroom. She is a lovely human being and is so very sweet. She recently shared a story of her last encounters with Prince and all I could think is that it is amazing how he made so many people feel so individually loved and so special. And here she was paying it forward.
Night 3 saw the energy lift even higher. The crowd cheered effusively. Questlove introduced the band with “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Revolution!”
We all understood the significance.
Wendy repeatedly held the microphone to the audience and let us to the singing. “You are the band! That is how he wanted it!” she told us. The Revolution accomplished what had been missing since we lost Prince in April, they made us feel acknowledged and they made us feel like a part of things again.
We’re still a group, right?
I was front row again. This time I brought my 14 year-old daughter. She has had some special interactions with Prince and she wanted to be there. She is the same age that I was when I first discovered Prince and it felt complete to have her experience this with me. These band members are some of the best musicians in the world. She needed to see this.
“You’re going to have to fight your own damn war, cause we don’t want to fight no more!” We all chanted and released and chanted it again. It reminded me of when Prince left us chanting “Free, Free Yourself” at Paisley Park one night all the way to the parking lot and all the way home. So many of us, tired of fighting this grief, chanting together and wanting to be set free.
During the 2nd and 3rd shows Wendy did not wait to play Prince’s guitar. She put it on right away and played it during the majority of the show. This gesture was a clear statement. He is here with us now and we are going to honor him. There was a time to be sad, but now we are going to celebrate! Prince was all about healing through music. The Revolution honored his legacy in the most perfect way…on the First Avenue Stage with heartfelt sincerity. It was beautiful.
At the end of the last night they predictably and fittingly ended with Purple Rain. As soon as Wendy began to play that familiar opening note the entire venue began to cry. There was no way around it but to openly sob as the circle completed right in front of us. What began there was ending there. As I was crying I looked up…Bobby Z was watching me. His face was red and he was struggling. His eyes caught mine and he nodded at me with a knowing look and pointed at me with his drumstick. My daughter looked back at me. It was so kind and thoughtful. It was exactly what Prince used to do.
Thank you to the Revolution. Thank you for remembering us fans and for including us and coming together to help us heal. I know that you had a choice and did not have to do this. It felt right, you did it exactly right. You did it exactly right because you know him. You did it exactly right because you know us.
At the end of the night I approached Dez Dickerson and gave him a purple rubber bracelet that said “Purple Army” on it. It is a bracelet that I wear with my purple family near and far to help keep us close together. When he went to put it on, he pushed up his sleeve and revealed a plethora of purple bands….gifts from different pockets of Prince Army members from all over the world. Mildly different but yet all the same. I was humbled in the vastness of this group of kindred spirits. Prince touched so many of us in so many ways and his loss leaves a void that is glaringly open.
No one can ever fill it. As Wendy Melvoin cheered out to the crowd at First Avenue “He can never be replaced. We won’t try. That’s a promise.”
Full circle of love. Complete. We are. The Revolution.
Rock star Prince and +250 friends held a purple masquerade at the Prom Center in St. Paul to celebrate his 27th brirthday. Prince flew in people from all over the United States, said Harry Givens, owner of the Prom Center. "It’s great,“ Givens said. "It’s a masquerade and the ballroom’s never been decorated like this in my 30 years." An estimated $20,000 was spent on the party to create a “carnival atmosphere”.
Inside were giant spiral purple staircases, two big brass beds, glittery booths, candies everywhere, mirrors, mannequins, international food stations, pinball machines and even Pee Wee Herman, according to one guest.
Security was unusually tight and the press wasn’t allowed inside.
• A Love Bizzare - w/
Eddie M. (sax), Sheila E. (drums)
Prince And The Revolution open the show with the first public performance of "A Love Bizarre”, which would see release over two months later on Sheila E’s “Romance 1600” album.
• Mutiny - Prince (bass), St Paul Peterson (vocals), Susannah Melvoin (vocals), Eric Leads (sax), Eddie M (sax), Jerome Benton (vocals), Sheila E (drums)
Another new song follows as Prince and The Revolution are joined by St. Paul Peterson, Susannah Melvoin and Jerome Benton from The Family for an over 14 minute version of their song “Mutiny”. St. Paul sings lead on this performance. The Family’s album would not see release until September of that year, so this was another new song to those in attendance.
• Sheila E drum solo
• Sometimes It Snows In April - Prince, Wendy, Lisa, Sheila E.
This song would not see release for almost another year, on the “Parade” album in March, 1986. The song is a work in progress at this point as Prince sings the first two lines of the song, then it becomes an instrumental performance.
• Irresistable Bitch - Prince and The Revolution + Eddie M. & Eric Leeds on sax
The first familiar song of the night starts a 30 minute non-stop funk marathon
• Possessed • The Bird • Drawers Burnin
“Possessed” then runs into a brief workout on The Time’s “The Bird” featuring Jerome Benton helping with the chants. This leads into the seemingly improvised “Drawers Burnin’”, a hilarious song with Prince singing in his ‘Morris Day voice’ and Benton again backing him up on the chant. This song has also been referred to as “Burn It” in the past.
• Holly Rock -
Prince & the Revolution + Sheila E (timbales) Eddie M & Eric Leeds (sax)
The night closes with a 13 minute version of "Holly Rock". Again a debut as this song would not be released until September on the “Krush Groove” soundtrack
Prince (vox, bass), Bobby Z. (drums), Brown Mark (bass), Wendy (guitar), Lisa (keyboards), Dr. Fink (keyboards)
*Guest(s) Sheila E. (vox, drums), Jerome Benton (vox), Susannah Melvoin (vox), St. Paul (vox), Eddie M. (sax), Eric Leeds (sax)