“That was historical,” declared Questlove, taking the stage to kick off a seemingly neverending DJ set that carried the crowd through the later hours of the night. “That’s not sh*t that happens every day.”
It was an apt summary of the nearly two-hour set by the Revolution, who reunited to perform their first show since 2003 and their first at First Avenue since the mid-’80s. That feeling of history being remade was palpable for even the most casual of Prince fans (of which there were few; most audience members were singing along word for word), as the band that backed the Purple One during the era that launched him into superstardom played note-perfect, emotionally charged renditions of many of his best songs.
The band reportedly only practiced a few times before taking the stage on Sunday night, but you’d never have known it from the quality of their performance; starting with “Controversy,” Wendy Melvoin commanded the crowd from center stage, singing Prince’s melodies and handling many of the rhythm guitar parts while the band laid down a groove behind her. All of the key players were in attendance, including Lisa Coleman and Dr. Fink on keys, Brownmark on bass, Eric Leeds on sax, and Dez Dickerson trading off guitar solos with Melvoin. But the player that got the most attention was the night’s honoree, drummer Bobby Z, who organized the reunion as a way to raise awareness of heart disease and celebrate his recovery from a near-fatal attack last year.
The evening’s intermission was really the only time that the benefit felt like a benefit; the band took a break to screen educational videos from the American Heart Association and Bobby Z and his wife, Vicki, delivered a speeches about their experience with his illness. (Interestingly, Vicki referred to the evening as their “first annual benefit,” leading me to wonder if we’ll hear more from the Revolution next year or if they’ll help book similar reunion-type shows by other acts.) Bobby Z thanked Prince “from the bottom of [his] repaired heart” for giving the reunion his blessing, then brought the group back to the stage and presented them with certificates from the Grammy Hall of Fame and had them recite famous lines from Purple Rain to uproarious laughter and cheers from the crowd.
Launching back into the music, the band got the crowd moving again with “1999” and “Life Can Be So Nice,” and then stretched into the 10-minute, Wendy and Lisa-penned “Mountains,” taking the time to showcase their individual skills and revel in an extended jam session with lots of spacey synth work from Dr. Fink. After that, it was all hits: “Baby I’m a Star,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and, after a blink-and-you-missed-it walk off stage, a first encore of “Purple Rain,” which got the entire room swaying side to side with their arms in the air. If Prince were to have made a cameo that would have been the perfect time to do it, but the band carried on so proficiently and poignantly in his absence that it almost would have ruined the buzz they had built thus far.
The band returned for one more encore, starting with the classic “Uptown” with guest vocalist Greg Sain singing lead, and then stretching out into another extended jam over the chord changes of “Sexy Dancer,” seemingly stalling to keep the performance going as long as they could. The show ended on a strange note, as a woman in the center of the floor fainted and had to be helped off by a swarm of security staff while the players on stage watched and worried, but Melvoin kept the beat going throughout the incident and whipped the band up into one last climax at the night’s end.
All told, it was an uplifting and celebratory night, and an impressive showing from the pioneers of the storied Minneapolis Sound.
Do It All Night
Life Can Be So Nice
Baby I’m a Star
Let’s Go Crazy
Uptown/Sexy Dancer extended jam
FOR MORE PHOTOS: See our full slideshow by Ben Clark here.