Local Current Blog

Review and photos: The Revolution play their lightest First Avenue show in years

Wendy Melvoin of the Revolution at First Avenue on July 23, 2017. Background: Brownmark (left) and Dr. Fink (right). All photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR

Just when I thought myself exhausted, the Revolution took the stage.

It’s been a long weekend, what with Current/Walker Art Center fest Rock the Garden on Saturday and day-after coverage taking up my Sunday. I normally avoid writing about concerts two days in a row, trying to stay healthy and well-rested — but I’ve made an exception before for Prince, and last night, I made one for the Revolution.

Thank goodness. I watched the Revolution — drummer Bobby Z, guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Lisa Coleman, keyboardist Dr. Fink, and bassist Brownmark — perform for an hour at Rock the Garden, teaming up with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on B-side “Erotic City.” But even that set couldn’t match the 23-song, spirit-filled Prince-fest at First Avenue on Sunday, when the Purple One’s best-known backing band joined more than 1,000 loving fans in the venue they helped made famous.

First Avenue wasn’t sold out last night, which made for one of the most comfortable Prince-related shows I’ve ever seen there. “Let’s Work” (among others) featured incredible moves and vocals from Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams. Since everyone in attendance had a bit of dance floor, they could follow along with his scoots and hip thrusts without bumping a neighbor.

The Revolution left the same two Purple Rain songs off the setlist as they did at Rock the Garden: “The Beautiful Ones” and “Darling Nikki.” At first, I was disappointed to miss them even in a longer set, but it soon made sense. Wendy’s “Let’s Go Crazy” guitar solo is so good you almost forget it’s not as good as it was. But even Stokley Williams wouldn’t be able to touch the original vocals on either “The Beautiful Ones” or “Darling Nikki.” Above and beyond technical skill, it’s a slippery, possessive lust — a personality — that makes both work.

One of the most poignant parts of the show came Wendy and Lisa performed “Sometimes It Snows In April,” the Parade song that took on new significance after Prince’s April death. The other three band members exited the stage, and the women offered up the homage: tour-tight but raw. Personal and somehow anthemic. I’ve never heard First Avenue that quiet.

When the stage lighting wasn’t purple, it cast blue or red. One one hand, it felt completely fitting; purple is an iconic color for Prince fans everywhere. On the other, it reminded me of the Revolution’s creative limitations; they used to work for one of the most shapeshifting artists of all time, but unlike him, they’ll never perform under electric blue and orange. They’ll never be known for gold and black. In a completely understandable, probably wise choice, they stick to the same setlist every night on tour, while their mentor was celebrated for doing the opposite.

Despite that difficult thought, the Revolution’s show was a blast. They skirted around most of the new-old music just released on Purple Rain Deluxe: Extended Edition. But they rolled through material from Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, and more. Wendy taught the audience the words to “Paisley Park,” and the Revolution’s buoyant rendition was the first I’d ever heard.

Lesson reaffirmed: don’t pass up a Revolution show at First Ave.

The Revolution setlist

Computer Blue
Take Me With U
Our Destiny / Roadhouse Garden
Raspberry Beret
Erotic City
Let’s Work
Paisley Park
Controversy/The Roof Is On Fire (Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three snippet)
Sometimes It Snows In April
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
Purple Rain

I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m A Star