Before a note was played, they talked. And talked. And talked.
“It was pretty much nonstop for a month. Texting and phone calls, conference calls. Endless talking,” drummer Bobby Z said.
“We’ve been talking more than we’ve ever talked in the past 20 years,” guitarist Wendy Melvoin pointed out.
Four days after Prince’s death on April 21, the five members of the Revolution, his band from his 1980s “Purple Rain” heyday, gathered in Minneapolis. They pledged to do something together. They continued to communicate from their respective homes — three in California, two in the Twin Cities — and this week they will play three sold-out concerts at First Avenue.
The Revolution last reunited in 2012 for a benefit for the American Heart Association at First Avenue after Bobby Z nearly died of a heart attack. That night there was a guitar left onstage for Prince in case he wanted to show up. He never did. The reunion this time will be different.
“We were celebrating Bobby being alive,” Melvoin said, “now we’re mourning a death.”
All five Revolutionaries — guitarist Melvoin, drummer Z, keyboardist Lisa Coleman, keyboardist Dr. Fink and bassist BrownMark (Mark Brown) — got on a speakerphone during a recent rehearsal in Los Angeles. Melvoin, the youngest at 52, dominated the conversation, with Z, the oldest at 60, speaking up regularly. The other three contributed but they weren’t the loudest voices in the room. One thing was apparent: The leader was missing.
Reason for the reunion
“I really believe everyone in here hasn’t really begun the grief process,” Melvoin said. “These shows that we’re doing, if I can speak for the five of us and sound slightly New Age about it, we need to grieve and transition him into his death and get the audience to be part of that. It feels like his spirit is sort of stuck here right now with a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions and unanswered hopes. There’s a lot of loss.”
“We didn’t get to go to the funeral,” Coleman said, referring to the service at Paisley Park three days after Prince’s death. “There was no proper tribute that we felt.”
“We felt left out a bit,” said Matt Fink.
Individually, the members of the Revolution are “looking for a version of salvation for the five of us,” Melvoin said. “We don’t want to put heaviness or importance on these three shows. ‘What are they gonna do? Who’s gonna be their singer? What songs are they gonna do? Why would they even do this without Prince?’ We know it’s out there.
“The point for us is not to replace him. What we can do is offer a really beautiful experience of what we had as a band when we were with him. We will never be that thing because we’re missing the lion’s share, we’re missing the figurehead, our sarcophagus.”
Coleman compared these First Avenue shows to looking at a family photo album at a wake or funeral.
“As we go through the songs, it’s like very intense photographs we’re sharing,” she said. “That’s just what we need to go through right now.”
Mood in rehearsals
Melvoin cut to the quick: “We’re learning how to be a band without our leader. We’re, I think, stronger in holding the torch of him right now than we’ve ever been.”
Since Prince died, the members of the Revolution have shied away from the media and have not committed to any other concerts or even paid attention to the investigation into Prince’s death or the questions surrounding his estate. They’ve been keeping to themselves, relying on one another.
“It’s been a trip to be in this rehearsal,” Melvoin noted. “We don’t have anyone in here. We don’t have a crew. It’s just been the five of us ding-dongs in here.”
Why First Avenue for the reunion
“We absolutely feel connected to Minneapolis and feel like it’s ground zero for us,” explained Coleman, a lifelong Los Angeles resident.
“Purple Zero,” Z said without missing a beat. “It’s where we need to start back there. Go back to the beginning. We’re striving to find our way out of this extremely dark place.”
Rehearsing in Los Angeles
The choice was easy: Melvoin, who has a 10-year-old son, and Coleman, who has a 9-year-old daughter, live in Los Angeles. Mark Brown lives in San Francisco, with his first grandchild on the way. Z’s two brothers live in L.A. and one of his three sons does, too. And Fink’s 21-year-old son lives there, as well.
The Revolution rehearsed for two weeks at SIR Studio in Los Angeles and then will practice in the Twin Cities for another week.
Prince & the Revolution are identified with a certain era, 1982-86, and certain albums — “1999,” “Purple Rain, “Around the World in a Day” and “Parade.” Material from that period will be the primary focus. But with special guests André Cymone and Dez Dickerson, who backed Prince before the Revolution, the possibilities expand.
The Revolution has ruled out some other Prince pieces, though.
“I wouldn’t dream of trying to play ‘Adore’ or ‘Most Beautiful Girl in the World,’ ” Melvoin said. “Everything’s coming from what everybody already knows and what we’re really great as a band that we can pull off without too much of a space missing in the middle of the stage.”
Reaction to Prince dying
“When I saw ‘Prince dead’ on TV, it was two words that were impossible,” Z said. “It’s still impossible to think he’s gone.”
When she heard the news, Melvoin tweeted something like “I can’t let it land yet. Not yet.”
Brown isn’t ashamed of his reaction: “I cried for a week straight. Every day.”
Wendy & Lisa were asked to perform Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” with soul man D’Angelo on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” a few days after the death. They declined.
“I couldn’t even play my piano for a month or more,” Coleman said.
“I couldn’t play my guitar,” Melvoin added.
“We could barely talk to each other,” Brown said.
The Revolution and other Purple staffers from the 1980s and ’90s held a private party at a downtown Minneapolis hotel four days after Prince died. They made a video telling fans that the Revolution would re-emerge.
“It was a purple shiva,” said Melvoin, referring to the Jewish mourning service.
“Light a candle in his memory ’cause this guy’s like Da Vinci or Shakespeare,” Z continued. “The world was shaking. He was the perfect marriage of music, art, commerce and fashion. All of them.”
Dealing with fans
Even though Wendy & Lisa had a Twitter account from Day 1, they’ve ignored it — and their own website — since Prince passed.
“I haven’t wanted to look at anything,” Melvoin said.
“I’ve not been interested,” Coleman said.
However, Brown remains active on social media, communicating with 65,000 to 100,000 fans.
“I’ve only seen two or three negative posts and when I get done [corresponding] with them, they’re positive,” he said. “It’s an emotional healing for fans as well. Fans need closure, they’re suffering. I get people who e-mail every day, crying. They’re hurt and they’re in disbelief.”
Brown pointed to a quote on his Facebook page that ended up in the New York Times: “We need this as much as you do.”
“It’s the truth,” he said.
Outfits for First Avenue
At this point in the conversation, the Revolution needed to lighten up. And they did.
“G-strings and boots,” Brown volunteered.
“Mark can still do the ‘Dirty Mind’ outfit,” Melvoin observed.
Z tried to keep things serious. “We’re going with classics.”
Said Melvoin: “I’m going to pull out a ‘Purple Rain’ outfit. It’s got some cobwebs. I’ll look like Miss Havisham.”
Easiest/hardest part of reunion
Coleman: “The easy part for me is being with these guys, each one who I love more than ever.”
Z: “The best part of mourning is being able to do it with them.”
For Brown, the hardest part is sorting through the music and deciding what to play. “It’s bittersweet,” he said.
“We’ve taken many pauses during this and talked about moments within each one of these songs,” Melvoin mentioned. “It’s been deep.”
“We want to do right by him,” Coleman said. “He lives inside of our minds.”
“I hear him in my sleep,” Brown said.