Residents of West London reported a Purple sky and people running everywhere on two evenings this week, but the year wasn’t 1999, the strange phenomena was the result of the long-awaited return of The Revolution to UK shores. After the first night of February 13th sold out in minutes, London was granted a second show the following night. And even a clash with Valentine’s Day wasn’t going to stop this party!
The historic Shepherds Bush Empire was full to capacity both nights, long before the band took to the stage, and the atmosphere was a heady mix of excitement and anticipation. The audience was a wonderful mix of long-term Purple Heads who had been lucky enough to witness The Revolution along with Prince on the Parade Tour back in 1986 along side those who were too young, or had yet to even be born the last time this band graced us with their presence. Stories and experiences were shared, until the whole event started to feel like a giant family reunion, what could be more appropriate?
Wednesday February 13th (Night One)
And so with the words Ladies and Gentlemen, The Revolution (the legendary First Avenue introduction from the Purple Rain film) the party began. The classic Revolution line up of Bobby Z, Matt Fink, Brown Mark, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman launched into the America flowed by Computer Blue which lead into a wonderful rendition of Mountains that got the people seated on the balconies on their feet dancing. Make no mistake, this band are TIGHT, Prince didn’t pick anyone to be on stage beside him that wasn’t the best in their field. The opening bars of Take Me With You received a rapturous welcome and a word perfect sing a long ensued.
Of course, the sing a long aspect is a huge element of these shows, with the band having said many times that the crowd would have to be the lead vocalist from now on, and London certainly didn’t disappoint. For the European leg of this tour The Revolution also added a guest vocalist, Stokley Williams to the mix, maybe they were concerned that the message of crowd participation hadn’t crossed the Atlantic ahead of them? Obviously a talented and energetic performer and a Minneapolis homeboy much beloved by Prince himself (As Wendy later informs us later) Stokley is given the unenviable responsibility of singing the vocal of Uptown, which he completes with ease. However, although clearly hugely talented and immensely watchable, for this writer the edition of any vocalist was, in fact unnecessary. Granted there are songs that require a falsetto that is out of the bands vocal range, but there are more than enough other songs to feature. Sadly, for this writer the presence of a 6th person on the stage just served to remind us of the massive empty space that Prince has left. There is only one person that should stand in front of the Revolution, and maybe leaving that space for him is something that we all need?
Next up, the great D.M.S.R. and then its back to The Revolution by themselves for crowd pleasing versions of 17 Days, Raspberry Beret and Erotic City before they are joined by Stokley again for a funk jam on Let’s Work, the perfect showcase for Brown Mark who takes us all to school with his Funk - Rock style. Before we can catch our breath its on to 1999 before the pace is slowed down and we come to what for me, was the highlight of the evening. With only Wendy and Lisa left on the stage we are treated to a stunningly beautiful and emotional rendition of Sometimes It Snows In April, breath-taking there are few dry eyes to be found in the audience as the last notes hang in the air.
Then the rest of the band are back and we are all on our feet for Let’s Go Crazy and we are dancing again, Delirious and Controversy follow with each band member taking their turn in the spotlight for a solo. Then its back to a six piece for Kiss, don’t worry guys, we can sing it without any prompting,
we’ve got your backs! The same goes for the next number, When Doves Cry (Complete with that classic little step over dance move)
Then its time for reflections and stories from Wendy, telling us about how and why The Revolution came to playing these gigs as well as lovely insightful stories about how they each came to be part of The Revolution. They all joined the band at different times, but each of them was just 19 years old when they were recruited. We hear how Mark impressed Prince not only with his Bass playing but also with his pancake making abilities when they were introduced at the Pancake House where he was working at the time. Wendy paints a wonderful image of hippy chick L.A. girl Lisa being collected from the air port by Prince in his Fiat. Lisa chain smoking on the journey to Prince’s house, a quite journey as neither of them was fond of talking. When they reach their destination, Lisa is sent downstairs to the piano whilst Prince, unknown to her, calls his management to express his doubts about this girl they have sent! That is until the sound of her playing drifts up the stairs, and Prince promptly hangs up. All this leads up to the inevitable, Purple Rain, which is everything you would expect. With the audience leading the singing (with Stockley’s assistance) mobile phone lights are held aloft as the entire Shepherds Bush Empire sways together in a moment of unity and remembrance.
Although the band leave the stage as the last notes of Purple Rain are still playing, we all know they will be back. And sure enough they return for the show closing classic combination of I would Die For You and Baby I’m A Star, If the Empire still has a roof after this performance it will be a miracle!
Taking their bows to a backing track of Around The World In A Day, the evening ends with one last message from Wendy “Be Kind To Each Other… And Invite Us Back!”
Thursday 14th of February (Night Two)
The set list for the second night is the same as the first and the performance is greeted with the same enthusiasm. Wendy wishes as all a “Happy Valentines Day”. Tonight her speech includes the fact that she first saw Prince ‘In The Flesh’ when she was at the video shoot for Sexuality, he made quite an impression!
At the end of the evening the band seem genuinely moved by their reception and understandably emotional as they reach the end of the current tour. “For us playing Europe is like playing Minneapolis, it’s like a home town crowd” Matt Fink tells us after the show. All we can hope is that we get to seem them again a little sooner next time round. Don’t leave it another 33 years guys!
You can watch highlights of both nights here;