Even before the unmistakable blast of organ and the immortal “dearly beloved” passage kicked off the show, Mark Brown made an emphatic declaration Friday night at First Avenue that proved to be far more than just typical stage banter.
“It’s a celebration tonight!” the Revolution bassist yelled, delivering a full-blown mission statement for his band on the second night of its historic three-night tribute to their late bandleader and friend, Prince.
With the exact same set list as opening night -- but with different guests and a seemingly lighter mood -- the Revolution turned the party up on Friday night. Brown and his cohorts looked to be having fun from the get-go. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboardist Lisa Coleman wryly smiled as they dryly delivered their intro to the second song, “Computer Blue” (“Wendy? Yes, Lisa. Is the water warm?”). Stoic drummer Bobby Z cracked a wide grin as the band launched into an ascendant “Mountains.” By the time Prince’s pre-Revolution band members Dez Dickerson and Andre Cymone arrived 25 minutes into the set to kick off a set of funky early jams, including “Uptown” and “Party Up,” the celebration was already in full motion.
“This is your party, we’re just the soundtrack,” Dickerson said in a tone as firm as Brown’s earlier declaration.
Even the concert’s most somber moment, Melvoin’s intimate acoustic rendering of “Sometimes It Snows in April,” was more lighthearted on Friday. The guitarist improvised a few new lines in the song, including, “Maybe I’ll see my friend again,” and, “Maybe he’s found an answer to Minnesota’s April snow.” She also introduced the ballad with a couple of sweet stories about the first time she performed with Prince. For those not up on the most historic night in First Avenue history, the 19-year-old Melvoin's debut happened Aug. 3, 1983, a benefit concert where the songs from “Purple Rain” were also introduced to the world.
“He took me aside and asked me if I was nervous,” Melvoin recounted, looking toward the dressing room 30 feet away where the exchange happened. After her “hell yeah” response, Prince talked about how her heart rate will naturally start pumping faster when she hits the stage. Instead of counting the songs’ rhythm in usual 1-2-3-4 time, he told her to count them in half-time “to get behind the rhythm.” Said Melvoin, “It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten to this day.”
She also beamingly recounted a more playful admonition from her mentor that night: “If you make a mistake, make it twice,” he told her.
To kick off the encore, Prince’s “Purple Rain” co-star Apollonia once again took the stage, but this time she let a new guest do most of the talking: Brenda Bennett, who was part of Prince’s first woman protégé act Vanity 6. Bennett recalled being introduced to him the day after John Lennon was shot in December 1980, when he played the Ritz in New York. “What he did, he did it out of love, and he did it for you,” she told the crowd.
Another surprise guest not seen on opening night, actress/comedian Maya Rudolph popped up during the encore to help sing “Baby I’m a Star” along with Gretchen Lieberum, her bandmate in the tribute band Princess. They were late getting to the stage, prompting Melvoin to joke about Rudolph not being able to run through the crowd because she’s “usually pregnant.” The “SNL” alum, however, danced harder than anyone on stage all night once she got there.
The other big-name guest on Friday was Questlove, bandleader of the Roots and “Tonight Show.” As soon as the Revolution's set wrapped just before midnight, the well-known Prince fanatic launched into a two-hour DJ set featuring remixed favorites and obscure nuggets by his hero, working from the DJ booth overlooking the dancefloor. His performance was a blast, too. Not content to just play bass-booming versions of “Sexy MF” and “Black Sweat,” the Philly music legend weaved together a swirly, acidic mix of “Mountains” with such mischievous rarities as “Yo Mister” and “The Sex of It.” At one point, he played what sounded like a raw demo of Prince working through “Kiss,” which was soon followed by an explosive reworking of “Hot Thing” that made the dancefloor erupt.
Questlove will spin again after tonight’s performance. The DJ set is open to all Revolution ticketholders, but more than half the tired crowd quickly straggled out of the club on Friday, leaving plenty of room for walk-up ticket sales to Questo’s fun shenanigans ($10).
Here’s some of the fun social media postings by those who were at First Ave on Friday.