It’s let’s-go crazy to think that Prince’s best-known band and the iconic venue he built as his musical dream factory had never been together — but it’s true, Friday marked the Paisley Park debut of the Revolution. The group, who originally dissolved as Prince moved on to other projects in his newly-opened studio in the late 1980s, brought their reunion tour to Celebration 2017 on Friday. Making up for lost time, the Revolution played not once but twice, and also shared their memories in a series of panel discussions that were part of the event’s intricate timetable.
To accommodate as many “fams” (Prince’s preferred term) as possible over the course of the four-day event that continues through Sunday, each day runs in two tracks: the complete daily program runs once from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then repeats from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ticket-holders alternate time slots, so those who are in the afternoon track one day switch to the evening track on the following day.
That explains how the words “surprise 3 p.m. George Clinton show in Chanhassen” came to describe a performance that actually took place on Thursday, when the funk legend — and Prince collaborator — showed up as the unannounced musical headliner on day one. After a full slate of panels and a film screening (Prince’s “Piano & a Microphone” show from January 2016, screened in the very room where it was filmed), the Revolution took the soundstage for a tight set that showed how much rehearsal they’ve put in before a U.S. tour that will keep them busy until mid-July.
The set kicked off with “Computer Blue,” a song that showcases the band’s power (bassist Brownmark calls it “one of the funkiest tracks” in Prince’s Revolution-era oeuvre) and has the added benefit of opening with an iconic spoken exchange between Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. (“Wendy?” “Yes, Lisa…”) From there the Revolution fired into “America” and a jubilant “Mountains,” with Susannah Melvoin — Wendy’s twin sister, who has her own important role in the Prince story — jumping on stage to contribute backing vocals and all-around stage energy. Susannah remained onstage for most of the set, joined later by Stokely Williams. The Mint Condition frontman added soulful vocals and funky dance moves (that got even funkier, and more athletic, after dark) to “D.M.S.R.” and “Let’s Work.”
If there was ever an audience to bust out the deep cuts for, this was it: members of the Purple Army who came in from all over the world for an intense fan experience. (Only a small fraction of attendees are from Minnesota.) The Revolution rewarded the loyal crowd with the medley “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden,” which Prince sometimes performed live but which will see its first official release with June’s Purple Rain deluxe edition.
You also couldn’t imagine a more extraordinarily attentive audience for a rock show — a result of the crowd’s superfan composition, Paisley’s no-phones rule, and the lack of alcohol. The evening-show crowd hung on Wendy’s every word, clapping supportively, when she introduced “Sometimes It Snows In April” by saying that it was on April 21, 1985 when she and Lisa collaborated with Prince on the song’s writing. April 21 also, tragically, became the day Prince died in 2016 — and it was the day in 2017 that brought the fams together to hear Wendy and Lisa together play a touching acoustic rendition of the song.
The second set also allowed time for a couple more Purple Rain bangers than the first show could accommodate, but both sets included jubilant renditions of “Paisley Park” — a song that expresses Prince’s view of Paisley Park as not just a physical venue, but a state of mind. (The term “Paisley Park” was part of Princeography years before the Chanhassen complex that definitively took the name was completed.) “Paisley Park,” go the lyrics, “is in your heart.”
Elsewhere at and around Paisley Park on Friday, the mood was bittersweet. Just one year ago, Paisley Park was Prince’s exclusive preserve; now, it’s fully operational as a museum showcasing his legacy. The Revolution are back together and touring, Morris Day and the Time are returning today after last playing Paisley at Prince’s invitation last year, and Prince’s most popular albums are now streaming on Spotify. Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister and one of six presumptive heirs, walked through the Celebration crowd on Friday saying, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving him.”
With the Celebration itself tightly organized — attendees are bused in from a Chanhassen transit center — only scattered handfuls of fans who weren’t ticket-holders showed up to be present outside Paisley’s fence. A few attached items to the fence, a practice that’s now discouraged for safety reasons; a fence specifically for tributes has been built on the Paisley grounds, and was opened to the public earlier this month. Photos of people who have come to pay their respects at that fence are being shown on the soundstage screen during Celebration.
The Current set up a tent, with permission from a nearby child care center, across the street from Paisley Park for a live broadcast; Prince’s bandmates André Cymone and Donna Grantis came by to share their memories. Inside Paisley, Celebration attendees also heard amazing stories from Prince collaborators like guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu, who caught the guitar Prince threw off — seemingly into the void — after his searing guitar solo at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Prince told him to hand the guitar to Oprah, said Suetsugu, and after the performance, internal monitors cut to a shot of the dumbstruck talk show host holding Prince’s axe.)
In a photographers’ panel moderated by The Current’s Andrea Swensson, designer and photographer Steve Parke — who collaborated with Prince on the 1990s redecoration of Paisley Park’s atrium, adding the visual details seen there today — reminisced about shooting photos with Prince at the nearby Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Parke later learned, he said, that Prince was a regular visitor there, finding moments of peace along the arboretum’s winding trails.
I thought about that later on, when I disembarked a shuttle at the wrong parking center (important note: there’s more than one SouthWest Transit hub) and found myself taking a long walk through Chanhassen.
As I walked along the silent streets, frogs croaking and crickets chirping, I thought about how many people in cities across the country at that very moment were attending raucous dance parties with DJs blasting the music that was created in a quiet Minneapolis suburb that was even quieter when Prince first built Paisley Park. I thought about Prince sitting there behind the control board in Studio A (or, earlier, at one of his two Chanhassen home studios) in the dead of the night, often alone, creating music that shook the world.
Prince’s remains now rest at Paisley Park: in an urn on the atrium mezzanine, near the cage that holds his surviving dove, Divinity. When the crowd emptied out, Paisley Park would be quiet again — until it was time for another day of music, mourning, and celebration.
The Revolution setlists: Paisley Park, April 21, 2017
Take Me With U
Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden
Let’s Go Crazy
Take Me With U
Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden
Sometimes It Snows In April
Let’s Go Crazy
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star