Psychologists say that when we lose someone, there are five common stages of grief that we must endure: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
With no public memorial to speak of in the months since Prince’s passing, that fifth stage has been hard to find. Sure, we had that insane block party the evening of his death, when the entire city wept with shock and disbelief and thousands of us squished together to hug, sing, and dance. And sure, there have been some truly transcendent tributes over these past few months from the NPG, Beyoncé, Morris Day and the Time, the Dixie Chicks, and Sheila E to help nudge us through the fog.
But how could we possibly accept this ridiculous reality? Surely this must just be a riddle, right? Prince has always been known to fall in and out of the spotlight, re-emerging when you least expect him. Maybe this is all some kind of long con; a joke he’d been planning for years, or a marketing ploy for an album he’s been recording while floating above us in space. At any moment he’s bound to beam down, sue us all for watching all of his videos on YouTube, and bust into a knowing laugh.
These are the feelings I’ve been grappling with for a while now, as the nightmare of Prince’s death swelled up all around us and then faded into a persistent ache.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned for certain in the many weeks that have slipped by since that awful day, it’s that Prince meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. And not just his fans, but his friends — he had so many friends — the musicians he surrounded himself with, and the women he loved deeply. As tributes continue to roll out, it’s hard not to feel like it’s a piecemeal effort, and that each homage is only capturing a small part of his essence.
I’m elated to report that the Revolution got it exactly right. Which isn’t to say that their first of three reunion shows at First Avenue got close to approaching perfection. But what they managed to capture over the course of their two hours on stage was something so much greater than musical precision: It was a tribute forged out of passion and respect that was executed in a heightened emotional state, and that helped the audience power through every last feeling imaginable.
The members of the Revolution looked like they had been through a war. This was a band who has survived fame, turmoil, breakups, a heart attack suffered by drummer Bobby Z, and now the death of a leader who never seemed to warm up to the idea of them playing a show without him. On this night, surrounded by so many of their founder’s closest family and friends, these warriors finally summoned the strength to cast off their burdens and hand their painful memories over to someone else for a while.
“I encourage every one of you to take every one of these songs and make them your own,” Wendy Melvoin said dramatically at the top of the show, before the band had played a single note. Later, she nodded in approval at the singing crowd and said it again: “That’s right. Take it back. That’s what he wants.”
The band blazed their way through “Let’s Go Crazy” to kick off their set, and it was positively righteous. The woman behind me just said, “Yes, yes, yes.” The stage lights glowed purple and then burst into a rainbow of colors, making the stage look like a movie set primed for a Purple Rain sequel. Wendy started out singing lead and then tossed it over to BrownMark, and when her harmonies glided over his gruffer melodies you could almost hear Prince’s voice rising overhead. Bobby Z grimaced, keeping time with the seriousness of a ship captain who was approaching a storm on the horizon, as Dr. Fink cocked his head and revealed a giddy smile and Lisa Coleman stood coolly behind her keys.
As the song neared its climax Wendy lifted up her guitar and then quickly dropped it back down, foregoing the solo for a far more poignant moment of stillness amid the maelstrom. When the song faded into the echoing beats of “Computer Blue,” the opening lines of “Wendy?” “Yes, Lisa,” never sounded so forlorn.
The performances ebbed and flowed like this all night, racing forward and exploding, then falling back into tender and painfully vulnerable moments. By the fourth song the energy started to drag, but thankfully the warriors brought plenty of reinforcements: Dez Dickerson, who played guitar alongside Prince at the very beginning of his solo career in 1979; and André Cymone, who befriended Prince and formed his first band with him when they were both 13 years old.
“I’ve been waiting such a bloody long time / to get this close to you,” André sang, and the line hit me like a dart to the chest. Earlier this week, André said he stopped listening to Prince’s music after the two parted ways back in 1981. And even though they’d kept in touch and had been talking more these past couple of years, I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to be up there communing with his departed friend’s melodies and words. When André looked around at all of the other musicians who had returned home to Minneapolis to pay their respects and sang the first chorus of “Uptown,” a lump formed in the back of my throat and stayed there for some time.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Dez Dickerson said, cuing the band up for “1999.” “This is your party, and we’re just happy to be invited.”
The stage cleared after “1999” and only Wendy and Lisa remained, and Wendy picked up an acoustic guitar and instructed the crowd to quiet down. “This is going to be intense,” she warned, but we had no idea what was ahead: an emotionally wrought duet on “Sometimes it Snows in April” that had the whole damn sold-out Mainroom in tears. It was so frail and evocative that I have no idea how Wendy even got through that song, or how she and Lisa are possibly going to perform it two more times, but it was the obvious standout moment of the night. Cars like that don’t pass you every day.
Thankfully they followed it up with the lighthearted “Raspberry Beret,” and then proceeded to bring more and more people up onto the stage until the night was through. Wendy introduced Bilal, an artist she said she admires, to soar through “The Beautiful Ones” in another concert highlight, and he stayed to lead the band through “Private Joy” and “When Doves Cry” before kicking things back to André and Dez for a scintillating “Controversy.”
For the encore, Prince’s Purple Rain co-star Apollonia greeted the audience in a sparkly gold gown and tossed handfuls of gold hoop earrings into the crowd, then shimmied around for “Kiss” and an all-star rendition “Baby I’m a Star” that also featured Wendy’s sister (and member of the Family/fDeluxe) Susannah Melvoin, Bilal, André, and Dez all sharing lead. The band lingered on the outro for “Star” for quite a while, with Wendy appearing to stall and hold the band in an extended groove while Apollonia called more and more people to the stage, including both of Prince’s ex-wives, Mayte Garcia and Manuela Testolini, and his younger brother, Omarr, who was wearing light-up sneakers in tribute. Finally, Wendy relented, the song wrapped, and everyone except the core five members of the Revolution left the stage.
There was only one song left to play, and no one really seemed ready to play it, which made the moment even more tenuous. Wendy got things going on guitar, turning her delay way up so those iconic opening chords bounced all around the room, then stepped up to the microphone with her eyes closed and face strained. Every line grew in emotion like a snowball, and those familiar stanzas seemed to take on a whole new significance as she wailed them out into the room: “Honey, I know, I know things are changing / It’s time we all reach out for something new / That means you too / You say you want a leader / But you can’t seem to make up your mind.” The guitar solo came and went, the oohs and ahhs found their home on our lips, and everyone reached out their hands and swayed from side to side.
That rendition of “Purple Rain” was, in all honesty, pretty stilted and awkward. But it was also unexpectedly healing. As I listened to Wendy falter and fumble around her fret board, and as the rhythmic momentum of the song folded in on itself and plodded, it all hit me: This was acceptance. The Revolution, in all their pained, poignant, imperfect glory, were the ones to finally help me find it.
Prince is really gone. No one will ever play “Purple Rain” that way again, not even the ones who helped record it. No one will ever play guitar that way again. Everyone Prince touched in his life loved him so much, maybe more than he ever knew, and now that he’s gone we’re all just doing our best to love each other, and to find peace in ourselves. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, something tells me that we’re all going to be okay. And if you know what I’m singing about up here, c’mon and raise your hand.
Let’s Go Crazy
Do it All Night
Little Red Corvette
Sometimes it Snows in April
The Beautiful Ones
When Doves Cry
Baby I’m a Star
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Photos by Nate Ryan: