MAY 12, 2017
Lisa Coleman: Keyboards, Synthesizers, Vocals
Dr. Fink: Keyboards, Synthesizers
Brown Mark: Bass Guitar, Vocals
Wendy Melvoin: Guitars, Vocals
Bobby Z.: Drums
Stokley Williams: Vocals
While entirely impossible to ever fully conceptualize, I would really like to think that Prince would have been proud. And beyond that, he would have felt gratified and enormously moved to know that his legacy remains so powerfully intact and beloved.
Believe it or not, I never saw Prince perform live even once. It is true. I never saw him and it saddens me that I really never gave myself the chance. Truth be told, for much of my younger days, Prince never really performed terribly much in the United States--or at least, standard touring was rare, as he tended to mount those shows in Europe, where audiences tended to be more appreciative of his musical transformations during the 1980's especially.
However, I did have a ticket to the "Purple Rain" tour back in 1984 but I unfortunately was unable to go as I had a test in Science (my worst school subject) the following morning and my very strict parents refused to let me attend. Four years later, I held summer employment at Ticketmaster and even with the staff discount, I was still unable to afford to go and see Prince's in the round "Lovesexy" tour. And so it went, for the remainder of Prince's life as well as my own. He toured and performed while I missed him again and again, feeling that inevitably, one day, I would have my chance.
And then, April 21, 2016 happened...
This Spring, I have had the opportunity to be present for several terrific concerts here in Madison, shows that I have attended with a frequency that, for me, is quite rare. From the incendiary protest music of Fishbone, to the euphoric, life affirming uplift of The Flaming Lips' extravaganza to the eloquent, elegant minimalism of Aimee Mann, I have been so very fortunate to have experienced them all. And seemingly, all of these shows, plus my life of missing Prince concert performances, all felt to culminate in the experience of bearing witness to The Revolution's thunderous, fully triumphant performance, a night that was nothing less than cathartic as it left me, and I would gather the entire audience, drenched in sweat and tears.
Granted, and despite the strong reviews and word of mouth, I was curious as to precisely how this concert would go forward as the central figure was obviously and tragically not present. While undeniably excited, I sat in the Barrymore in the first row behind the V.I.P. section alongside my treasured friend and world famous WLHA-FM DJ Kelly Klaschus and her husband Brian, all three of us just sending mental hopes to the band that this evening would go well. We would soon discover that those mental wishes were wholly unnecessary.
Shortly after 8 p.m., as the strains of Donna Summer's "Last Dance" faded from the loud speakers, the house lights went dark and The Revolution quietly took their places upon the stage, in the very configuration as they performed in the 1980's. As the large crowd bean to scream their excitement towards the stage, Drummer Bobby Z., slickly dressed in a black suit and tie took his place behind the drum riser, soon to be followed by Keyboardist Dr. Fink, fully dressed in his trademark surgical scrubs and sunglasses. Bassist Brown Mark took his place on the left side of the stage as Guitarist extraordinaire Wendy Melvoin took her spot on the right with the ethereal Lisa Coleman sauntering her way to her keyboard station. And center stage? That space was left appropriately and so poignantly empty, a consistent reminder of what was so powerfully missing.
And so it was for much of the full and tightly packed two hour performance as The Revolution roared through hit songs ("Kiss," "1999," "Raspberry Beret," "When Doves Cry"), deep album cuts ("Uptown," "D.M.S.R.," "Automatic," "Let's Work"), b-sides ("Erotic City"), and even the long unreleased yet soon to be released "Purple Rain" outtake "Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden." Through everything, the band remained in high spirits, encouraging the audience to sing along, which we did non-stop as we all danced and screamed continuously.
And then, it was time to officially address the elephant in the room...
photo by Jami Phillips
As most of The Revolution exited the stage, only Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman remained, and I knew it was time and that it would potentially be very difficult. Melvoin began to speak at length for the first time on this night as she explained how she and the band were in as much shock as all of us on the day that Prince died. As she explained how this tour came to be, a story that she has told many times over this past year, it was obvious that the grief was still close to the surface as her voice cracked here and there and it seemed as if she was still searching for the best words to express this loss. The effect was human, down-to-Earth, relatable and absolutely inclusive. Not one moment felt canned or insincere and it endeared her and therefore the band to us even more.
Wendy and Lisa soon began to perform the beautifully stark and elegiac "Sometimes It Snows In April," the closing song from "Parade," a song of tremendously palpable existential sorrow that was so overwhelming that I essentially skipped listening to the track when I first bought the album as a teenager in 1986, and I rarely listen to it now for the same reasons. On this night, as Wendy explained that she and Lisa recently discovered that they first recorded the song with Prince on April 21, 1985--32 years to the day of Prince's death--an audible hush flowed through the crowd. Wendy again informed us that if we wished to sing with her, then to please accept her invitation. A few audience members did just that, whereas I, Kelly and so many others took time to reflect upon the lyrics and the music and shortly, crying in the auditorium was audible--my tears included.
When the full Revolution returned to the stage, the band performed a portion of "Paisley Park," again inviting us to sing along with a song to be used as what Wendy Melvoin referred to as a "smoke signal" to Prince, to his spirit and memory.
And then...that unmistakable guitar chord was played and that equally unmistakable hush of recognition flowed through the Barrymore as we knew that it was time for the greatest of them all, the mammoth "Purple Rain." Every single moment congealed beautifully over the course of this song as The Revolution with Stokley Williams and the audience worked through the celebration and grief in tandem. Cigarette lighters and cell phones lit up the room as arms swayed back and forth, all of our voices flowing and rising together as if in some purple choir and Wendy Melvoin heroically took on Prince's towering, mountainous guitar solo and scorched the sky, leaving all of us completely spent.
Sweat and tears, y'all. Sweat and tears.
I am unable to stress emphatically enough to you how formidable The Revolution happened to be. It was a muscular performance filled with musical virtuosity, aggression, agility, athleticism and profound grace and gravity. And for all of the tears, it was not a maudlin night or one of easy sentimentality. The Revolution rightfully earned the full embrace of the Barrymore audience not through nostalgia but through their almost feverish commitment to ensure that this figure and his musical legacy is curated, protected and presented with as much professionalism and artistry as it was when he was alive.
And still, it was a night of community, with The Revolution, Stokley Williams and the audience playing off of each other, feeding off of each other and simultaneously holding each other upwards in unison, for if we fell, they would fall and vice versa.
I sincerely would like to believe that if there was a way for Prince to have seen or felt this night, he would know just how loved he was by the musicians with whom he worked and the audience who listened and believed. Perhaps this night in its entirety was a bit of a smoke signal. If it was, I hope the message was received. But for The Revolution, I hope even more that they received the message from us of how loved they are and how thankful we were to host them in our city.
photo by Jami Phillips
All photos by Scott Collins except where indicated
I would like to share a story with you about what happened to me after the concert, something that seemed to place a wonderful period upon the night as a whole for me.
Upon leaving the Barrymore and after walking a couple of short blocks towards my car, I bid farewell to Kelly and Brian, climbed into my car and looked through a few of the pictures and videos I took during the show. I turned on my car and began to make my way towards home. And then, inspiration struck and I thought to myself simply, "Why not?"
Instead of heading home, I drove back to the Barrymore and into the small parking lot where The Revolution's tour truck had been stationed. I parked, looked out of my window and saw a few people holding albums standing by the trucks as the roadies loaded up the equipment. I listened for a moment and then, I saw him.
It was Dr. Fink himself signing a few albums and as I approached, I watched him pose for a few quick photos before he took off for the night. Very shortly thereafter, Bobby Z. walked outside and towards us. While he politely declined taking photos ("I'm really sweaty," he explained), he spent a few quick moments signing autographs and I quietly asked if I could shake his hand, he obliged and I thanked him for coming. And with that, he was on his way as well.
Perhaps another five minutes or so later, I could not believe my eyes. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman ventured outdoors and the fans called them over, to which they fully obliged, with Wendy, in particular, presenting herself as being quite gregarious and self-deprecating while Lisa quietly sauntered alongside her.
I could not believe it! Certainly, as a teenager, I housed little crushes on both Wendy and Lisa but it was the sensation and realization that these two figures, musicians I deeply revere, women who I have seen on film, in videos, photos and magazines for over 30 years were now standing directly in front of me and the significance completely disarmed me.
Wendy Melvoin stopped directly in front of me and smiled as she took my hand and gave it a lengthy handshake. "Hi," I said, hearing my voice crack and suddenly, I was overcome and I began to cry. I was stammering and I felt so embarrassed, and yet, Wendy continued to smile and hold my hand.
"Are you feeling verklempt?" she asked me.
"Yes," I choked out.
"Me too," said Wendy, still holding my hand and we began to laugh. Any tension on my part evaporating in seconds.
It was all a fumble of appreciative words but I was glad that I could tell her not only how much Prince meant to me but how much she and Lisa mean to me as I do indeed possess all of their post Revolution albums, an acknowledgement that Wendy seemed to be most appreciative of as she continued to smile as she bowed in gratitude. When I told her that I hoped that she and Lisa woud make another album one day, she replied that she would love to but her commitment is currently to the band and it may not look right if they did an album quite yet. And then, she took her time shaking more hands, posing for photos and signing albums.
Lisa Coleman eventually found her way to me and I was overcome all over again. She shook my hand delicately and just exuded such warmth as I was a teary, inarticulate mess. She smiled as well and soon said, "I love your hat!"
"Fishbone," she said. Oh yeah...I was wearing my Fishbone baseball cap, the very one I purchased at their show nearly two months ago. And then, we had a short conversation about Fishbone, and my life as a preschool teacher and community radio DJ before we each wished each other safe travels before departing our separate ways.
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were nicer and kinder than they had any right to be and they each gave me a moment that I will remember forever, a moment that fully encapsulated the richness of this night. I had forgotten my camera in the car and I had nothing for them to sign. And there was so, so much that I wished to say and ask but I didn't wish to be a pest and again, I was overcome.
THANK YOU to The Revolution for coming to my city and I sincerely hope that you make a return trip one day. THANK YOU to Wendy and Lisa for just being so personable, so inviting and just plain nice to me.
And to Prince...THANK YOU. That's all I can say...THANK YOU.