Bobby Z drumming for mypurpleheart.org/ Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler
Maybe we longtime Minnesotans are a little blase about Prince performing in his hometown.
Maybe we didn’t appreciate what it meant for out-of-towners and younger-than-baby-boomer Minnesotans to witness the Revolution reunion Sunday at First Avenue.
For them and for this longtime Prince follower, it was a treat to hear those 1980s songs in First Avenue played by that band on that splendid sound system, mixed by Rob "Cubby" Colby (Prince’s longtime soundman and one of the best in the business).
Factor in that Prince hasn’t played many proper gigs at First Ave in decades. There was the final of three shows on 7/7/07 (remember: first, Macy's, then Target Center and finally First Ave) but it was cut short by the police because it was after-bar hours. So the one full show before that was in 1987 prior to the Sign o the Times Tour.
In other words, this Revolution reunion was a big deal for Prince fans who came from all over the States and Europe — and even New Zealand.
"This was the Holy Grail," proclaimed Chris Garcia, 41, of Los Angeles, in his Wendy & Lisa T-shirt, afterward. He has seen more than 30 Prince shows, even worked at Paisley Park as a video editor for two weeks and also saw the Revolution reunion cameo in 2003 at a Sheila E-organized benefit in Los Angeles. "Since ‘1999,’ Prince has been the soundtrack of my life," Garcia says, but he'd never witnessed the Revolution, his favorite backup band, at First Ave.
Some younger First Avenue employees asked me how this gig compared to the Prince shows at the club back in the day.
Aside from the obvious fact that Prince didn’t perform, the big difference was that most of 1980s shows had no advertising or even much advance notice. Prince would decide that day (or the day before) that he’d like to play at First Avenue. There was no social networking or even Internet back then. It was pick up your land line and call all your friends. The gigs were totally word of mouth. At most, KMOJ radio might announce the show. Moreover, the crowd back then was hipsters in their 20s and 30s; Sunday's show drew mostly people older than 40 seeking nostalgia.
Seeing the Revolution without Prince demonstrated how integral — and good — these particular players were in his pre-New Power Generation days. Each brought different elements to the melting pot of Prince’s music. That the expanded Revolution — Bobby Z, Dr. Fink, Wendy & Lisa, Brownmark plus Dez Dickerson and Eric Leeds (and two backup singers) — sounded so good after only a day-and-a-half of rehearsals was impressive.
To be sure, this performance lacked the kinetic energy and unstoppable excitement of a front-person dancing around like a dynamo wielding a guitar. But Wendy Melvoin acquitted herself admirably as a frontwoman, and Greg "G Sharp" Sain, a Twin Cities club singer who specializes in Prince songs, did a fine job stepping front and center on "Uptown."
(As explained in the newspaper report, the Revolution was prepared for Prince to show up -- they had gear for him -- but they weren't certain that he would appear even though his close pal Larry Graham sat by Colby at the mixing console.)
Z organized the sold-out reunion as a benefit to help create awareness about heart health because he had a near-fatal heart attack in February 2011. The American Heart Association was pleased with the response from the more than 1,500 fans.
"This is so different from whatever we’ve done," said Barb Ducharme, the senior director of community health for the association. "This has now made the American Heart Association cool."
What added immensely to the evening was after-party DJ Questlove of the Roots. He introduced himself as the world’s No. 2 fanatic of Prince and the Revolution because he’s knows there’s got to be someone out there crazier than he.
Then, for three hours, he displayed his encyclopedic knowledge of the Minneapolis Sound by spinning Prince obscurities, Time and Sheila E favorites and even Stevie Nicks’ "Stand Back" (which featured Prince). And how ‘bout mixing in "Starfish and Coffee" in a dance set and that closing instrumental theme from the "Parade" album featuring trombone and perhaps tuba?
Only a guy who would make his own Time T-shirt featuring the first names of all seven original members would be dedicated enough to come up with three compelling hours of Purple music that kept the dance floor full.
By the by, many clubgoers who stuck around for the Questlove set got a chance to mingle with the Revolution members late in the evening.
Here is the set list played by Wendy & the Revolution:
Controversy/ Do It All Night/ Party Up/ Let’s Work/ Pop Life/ America/ 2 heart-health videos were shown and Bobby Z and his wife, Vicki Rivkin, gave brief speeches ("I want to thank Prince from the bottom of my repaired heart"); he presented the members of the Revolution with certificates for "Purple Rain" being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame/ "Revolution Theater," with each member reciting a line or two from "Purple Rain"/ 1999/ Life Can Be So Nice/ Mountains/ anotherloverholenyohead/ Baby, I’m a Star/ Let’s Go Crazy ENCORE Purple Rain/ Uptown (G Sharp on lead vocals)