There are an infinite number of ways that The Revolution going on tour and playing Prince songs barely a year after their leader’s death could have gone badly. The hole in the center of the stage and the sound could have been too big. His absence could have made it all feel too inappropriate or, worst of all, exploitative. Or, they simply might not have been up to the task, some 30 years after they’d last played together with him, of performing those complicated, difficult songs that they used to execute with the military precision of which he relentlessly demanded. It all could have been too sad.
But on Friday night at a densely packed B.B. King’s in Times Square, none of those things happened. The band was razor sharp, inspired, and knew exactly what the audience wanted: a concert that was a celebration, a reunion, a public mourning — and perhaps most of all, a release. And from the very beginning of the set, The Revolution made everyone in the crowd a participant.
The house lights went down and the announcer said “Ladies and gentlemen, the Revolution,” just like in the “Purple Rain” film. The beat from “Computer Blue” kicked in as the group — guitarist Wendy Melvoin, bassist Brown Mark, drummer Bobby Z., and keyboardists Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman — walked onstage. Wendy, now the de facto frontperson purely because she’s the main singer (and the most talkative), strode up to the microphone and said, “This is about taking these songs back. Everyone’s wondering ‘Who’s gonna sing this, who’s gonna sing that’ — you are.” Then Brown Mark, playing the id to her superego, yelled, “Are you ready to party?!”
The crowd erupted as Wendy and Lisa completed the song’s introductory dialogue — and they were off. The Revolution roared through an opening salvo of songs that had the audience raving: “America,” “Mountains,” “Automatic,” “Take Me With U.” While there was a refreshing mix of ages, races, and genders (kind of like a more middle-aged and modestly dressed version of the crowd in “Purple Rain”), the house was generally packed with dedicated, die-hard, longtime Prince fans; the band originally booked the tour cautiously, but this thousand-odd-capacity show sold out so quickly that they added another show at the 1,500-cap Webster Hall on May 3rd. These fans, who bought up the tickets so quickly, didn’t just know every word, a lot of them yelled out the tricky “Hey!”s in “Automatic” and the “Guitars and drums on the one, HUH!” in “Mountains” perfectly on cue.
It was one of the happiest concert crowds we’ve ever been in.
The group was then joined by Mint Condition singer Stokely Williams, the only guest vocalist of the night (others, such as Bilal, are playing different shows on the tour). A formidable frontman in his own right with solid dance moves, Williams not only knew…