First Avenue Tribute photography shot by Vickey Ford (SneakShot) for Okayplayer.
Noted Prince expert Questlove had played an epic three-hour DJ set of rare and unreleased jams, but I still wasn’t ready when all of the lights shined for the main event. For the third and final night, the Revolution were reuniting to pay tribute to their fallen bandleader at First Avenue, the historic venue featured in the concert scenes of Prince’s film Purple Rain. They had quite big shoes to fill without Prince, who unexpectedly passed away this past April. But a roar of the crowd showed that we knew we were in for a treat, and the band — guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Dr. Fink (decked out in scrubs and stethoscope prop of course), bassist Brownmark and drummer Bobby Z. – didn’t disappoint.
When the opening organ and the famous line “dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” from “Let’s Go Crazy” came out of Melvoin’s mouth, the crowd erupted. They sounded great, and very polished. Prince’s childhood friend and original bassist André Cymone came out with original guitarist Dez Dickerson (who was replaced by Melvoin in 1983 right before the Purple Rain album was recorded). All seven musicians on stage were now ready to rock, as they rolled right into “Computer Blue,” “America” and then one of my personal favorites, “Mountains.” After these funky songs, they went deeper into Prince’s catalog (pre-Revolution) and performed “Do It All Night,” Let’s Work,” Uptown” and “Partyup.” “Let’s Work” turned into a nice extended funk piece that included a sensational bass duel with the two bassists. Brownmark was in top form all night and looked like he hadn’t aged a bit. Cymone was very commanding onstage and seemed very comfortable assuming the lead role in all the songs he was featured in. Not having seen or heard from him in over 30 years, I was quite impressed at his stage presence. Next they performed “Little Red Corvette,” and then following that was “1999” with Melvoin leading a chant of “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”
Most of the band left the stage at this point, except for Melvoin and Coleman. Melvoin strapped on an acoustic guitar and told a story about when Lisa was called to audition for Prince. He was apparently unconvinced until he saw she could play three keys with one thumb and create the most beautiful chords. “This changed history,” Melvoin said as Coleman hid behind the keyboards and ducked while obviously blushing. The most somber moment of the night was Melvoin’s intimate acoustic rendering of “Sometimes It Snows in April;” she got choked up at some of the lyrics, and turned away from the crowd to gather herself. She 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.”
The band, sans Andre and Dez, then came back out and launched into “Raspberry Beret,” making way for the show’s first special guest: Kimbra. Wearing impossibly high stacked boots, the Australian singer joined Wendy’s twin sister and one-time Prince fiancé Susannah Melvoin. Kimbra was the lead vocalist for the next couple songs, “Private Joy” and “Delirious.” Andre and Dez returned for “When You Were Mine” and “Controversy.”
During the next break, Apollonia came out to thank the crowd for their support and tossed out a few earrings in an ode to the scene in Purple Rain. She then brought out Brenda Bennett, a member of Apollonia 6/Vanity 6. “Susan [the third member] couldn’t make it tonight – she apparently had other things to do,” Bennett quipped.
For the encore, the next surprise guests came out – a very pregnant actress/comedian Maya Rudolph along with Gretchen Lieberum, her bandmate in the tribute band Princess. They were the backup singers for the remainder of the show, and now with everyone onstage, they all launched into “Kiss” and then the rousing “Baby I’m a Star.”
The final inevitable song of the night was “Purple Rain.” Wendy started strumming the intro chords on Prince’s Hohner Madcat guitar to this signature song while telling the story, “I was 18 years old when Prince brought me out on this very stage right here for the first time and had me play this chord for like 10 minutes while he just walked around. There is a video of this on YouTube I believe. I am not going to go for 10 minutes tonight, but here we go.” The show closed with this emotional performance/tribute and a great guitar solo by Wendy while the crowd sang along and waved their arms back and forth. It was (almost) like it was 1984 again.