Revolutionary: Prince’s backing band brings reunion tour to Philly

Revolutionary: Prince’s backing band brings reunion tour to Philly

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The Revolution, the legendary funk/rock band behind some of Prince’s most popular albums and tours, is hitting the road this spring. The troupe reunited for a handful of tribute concerts last year in Minneapolis following the sudden death of the iconic singer, performer and songwriter.

Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, bassist Brown Mark, keyboardists Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman and drummer Bobby Z. were all immortalized on screen and on tape after having appeared on Prince’s bestselling album and film, “Purple Rain,” as well as the albums “Around The World in a Day” and “Parade,” before Prince disbanded the group in 1986.

Melvoin and Coleman, who were in a relationship with each other at the time, went on to form the duo Wendy & Lisa. They recorded a number of albums and won numerous awards and accolades for their work, as well as composed music for TV shows and films like “Nurse Jackie,” “Heroes,” “Shades of Blue” and “Carnivale.” The pair has also collaborated with singers Madonna, Meshell Ndegocello, Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crown, k.d. Lang and Grace Jones, among others. 

Many musicians backed up Prince over the course of his prolific career but The Revolution has always held the most popularity — and mystique — among his fans. Coleman said while being part of the group when Prince’s career hit critical mass with “Purple Rain” is a big part of the draw, there is more to the affiliation.

Bobby Z. began working with Prince when he was just 19, and one by one the rest of the members joined about every other year, putting out albums such as “Controversy” and “1999,” until Melvoin got on board shortly before “Purple Rain.”

The process led to a cohesion, Coleman said.

“I think [The Revolution has] a special-ness to it because it was the only band Prince really ever was in, like a real band. The way that we worked together, he asked for our input. We worked together for a lot of years honing the sound. It was kind of the first of his bands to take off,” she said. “It’s crazy because we have older people and they bring their kids who are teenagers or in their early 20s. We’ve been able to cross generations, which is really amazing. Everybody has memories of it and the younger people talk about their parents listening to Prince and The Revolution. The parents talk about how it reminds them of high school. It’s amazing how we have punched holes in the culture.”

The last time The Revolution toured together, besides a few one-off reunion shows, was back in 1986 for Prince’s “Parade” album. Coleman said, despite the long absence, the band’s chemistry quickly came back after more than 30 years of separation.

“It’s kind of scary how easy it was,” she said about the recent tour. “The hardest part was the emotional part of it. We would start playing a song like ‘Controversy’ and it would be super-emotional. We couldn’t quite get through it. We’d stop, get choked up and end up talking for hours. Most of our rehearsals have ended up being us hanging out and just giving each other emotional support. So yeah, the chemistry is amazing and we’re even closer than we ever have been. It’s really great.”

Since Prince was the focal point of the group, the big question looming over the reunion shows is which songs The Revolution would perform, and which band members would sing them.

Coleman said they all agreed that they had some big shoes to fill.

“There’s no replacing Prince, obviously. And no one ever could, to us especially,” she said. “We decided to approach the group-vocal kind of songs first, and then we’ve been able to have the occasional guest singer join us. But what’s really important to us right now is that we want the audience to be involved. Prince exists when we play and sing together. So our philosophy for this whole thing is, let’s just conjure as much as we can of Prince when we play these songs. And we’re not trying to be flashy and show we don’t need him because we will always need him; that’s just the way it is. We have the recording to live by. We were a band and we were the thing that he loved and that he cozied up to and that made him dance and sing his heart out. We want the audience to feel that and to also be involved and sing. So there will be Prince. That’s our whole motto right now.”

Most fans of Prince know that, while he wrote, recorded and put out new music at a prolific and dizzying pace, he was very protective of unreleased material, which he kept in a vault, and quickly shut down bootlegs floating around the Internet.

Now that his estate is being controlled by family members and record labels, there is speculation that there will be numerous posthumous releases and re-issues coming down the pike, including a “Purple Rain” deluxe edition later this year.

Coleman said there are no immediate plans for The Revolution to put out any new material and that they aren’t involved in deciding what, if any, Prince material from that era is going to get an official release. 

“We talk about that quite often,” Coleman said about recording with The Revolution. “We jam a lot and we are recording those jams but we’ll see what happens. We’re taking it slow. There’s a great deal of unreleased material that we’d like to see released but it’s not up to us. It’s up to [Prince’s] estate. We don’t want to be part of that whole struggle and fight. We feel like we need to fight about it, but it’s going to take some time before any of that stuff sees the light of day. We have been a little bit involved with the Warner Bros. [‘Purple Rain’] release that is coming up in June. It has some unreleased material on that so we’re pretty excited to have that released.”

Outside of The Revolution, Coleman and Melvoin are award-winning and sought-after TV and film composers. While touring with The Revolution is commanding a lot of their attention for the foreseeable future, Coleman said she hopes to find a balance between performing and composing.

“Luckily right now, we’re on hiatus because the television season is on a break,” Coleman said. “We turned down a couple things to do this [tour]. We are committed to ‘Shades of Blue’ that we have been working on for the first two seasons and it just got picked up for a third season. So we’re definitely going to do that. I love my job as a composer a lot. I think we’ll be able to work it out and do both. That is my dream.”

But, putting out and new music as Wendy & Lisa is on the backburner for now.

“I hate to say no, but we are always writing,” she said. “I think right now the priority is The Revolution and our commitments to ‘Shades of Blue’ so Wendy & Lisa will have to hang on for a minute.”

Which Prince and The Revolution albums and tours did Coleman favor?

“It changes all the time,” she said. “Right now we’re in Chicago at the Metro and I remember playing here on the ‘Dirty Mind’ tour. I think I was 20 years old and I think back on that tour with a lot of fondness. We were so great and young. It was before things took off but there was a simmering going on. I just love that experience. Now that I’m older, I can look back on it and really appreciate how cool that was and how exciting it was to be the only girl in the band with these crazy musicians and we were tearing it up. Aside from that, suddenly it was ‘Purple Rain’ and we had people to carry our bags. We were totally spoiled. That had its perks for sure: bigger hotels and limousines. It was crazy and wonderful. We were hungry, young and wild and it came off that way. We rocked hard. We still have that kind of energy.”

The Revolution performs April 29-30 at TLA, 334 South St. For more information, call 215-922-1011 or visit www.tlaphilly.com.  


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