The Revolution contributed to some of the most important recordings of the last four decades, appearing on Prince albums like “1999,” “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade.” “Purple Rain” made them more famous than most backing bands.
The young, no-nonsense and blazingly talented guitarist Wendy Melvoin was one of the few who would stand up to Prince (in “Purple Rain” and in real life). Her partner Lisa Coleman is a gifted pianist, songwriter and vocalist, someone who helped bring dimensions of color to Prince’s music that otherwise would never has existed. Bobby Z., Mark Brown and Matt Fink all made important contributions as members of the Revolution.
Though disbanded by Prince amidst tension following a 1986 tour, they’ve now reunited and are touring. On April 27th, they played the Fillmore in Silver Spring.
Prince was a peerless performer. He was a dynamo like no other, dancing, singing and knocking out blistering guitar solos or wildly intricate piano with equal proficiency. Nobody will ever compare to Prince and the Revolution doesn’t try. In his live performances, Prince would often run through his hits in abbreviated versions or as part of medleys, and sometimes he would go off on long funk jams. He was not the type to choose a set list of 25 songs, play them in full and change it up from night to night to keep the audiences surprised. But the Revolution did exactly that. Their 22-song set covered all of the albums on which they were featured, focusing mainly on the hits but throwing in a couple deep cuts as well. Throughout the night the band paid respect to the music, treating it with reverence and bringing it to electrifying life before a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Most of the lead vocals were handled by Melvoin and bassist Mark Brown, both of whom did their former boss justice. Vocalist Stokley Williams of Mint Condition guested throughout much of the show, generally performing lead on the more funk-oriented tracks like “Kiss,” “Erotic City,” “Uptown” and “Let’s Work.” Williams faced a difficult task. Obviously replacing Prince is impossible, and he didn’t try. He kept the audience singing along, dancing and leading the crowd in arm-waving and cheers, but he didn’t go too far over the top or showboat. He allowed the attention to be on the Revolution but still delivered the dynamic vocals the songs required.
The band opened with their iconic dialogue on the hard-edged funk/rock classic “Computer Blue,” and delivered scalding takes on “1999,” “D.M.S.R.,” “Controversy,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Delirious.” The more pop-oriented songs were all crowd-pleasers, and the whole room sang along with “Take Me With U,” “Paisley Park,” “Mountains” and “Raspberry Beret.”
“When Doves Cry” was absolutely blazing from start to finish, Melvoin nailing the opening snarls of guitar and the searing solo midway through, and keyboardist Matt Fink deftly managing those slithery lines of synth near the end. Most of the night was a party, but one somber moment came when the rest of the band left and Wendy Melvoin, after a short and emotional speech about Prince, and Lisa Coleman together performed “Sometimes it Snows in April,” alone on the stage. The room was silent as a seance, apart from the hushed voices singing along. It was a shared moment of connection, of loss and love. Wendy & Lisa recorded the original with Prince in one take, and his absence from that stage was felt to the bones by everyone in that room.
The main set of course closed with “Purple Rain” and it was hard not to feel Prince’s presence smiling down as Wendy nailed his famous solo and the crowd waved their arms in the air and sang along with his great epic. Then just like in the film, after the dramatic title song the band walks off stage, only to return to the sound of wild applause. Then, bam! Pure funk amped to the highest wattage with the one-two closing punch of “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy of dancing and the pure love and celebration of Prince and his music.
Fillmore, Silver Spring
April 27, 2017
1. Computer Blue
5. Take Me With U
8. Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden
9. Raspberry Beret
10. Erotic City
11. Let’s Work
13. Paisley Park
15. Sometimes it Snows in April
16. Let’s Go Crazy
19. When Doves Cry
20. Purple Rain
21. I Would Die 4 U
22. Baby I’m a Star