April 21, 2016 will forever be remembered as the day the world lost the artist Prince. A talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriting visionary, cultural iconoclast and boundary-pushing enigma, even a singular year without his presence feels like an eternity to many.
When: 8 p.m. April 23-24
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $41 in advance (April 23 is sold out)
While much of the past 12 months has been dogged by drama over his estate and the unfurling of the investigation into his sudden passing (the latest of which, released Monday, discovered illegally written painkiller prescriptions), there are those that want to turn the page by revisiting and celebrating his legacy.
The most significant is the reunion and upcoming tour by The Revolution. The collaborative backing band was the most significant of Prince’s 40-year career, originally pieced together in his hometown of Minneapolis in the late ’70s and remembered as the heavyweights on masterpiece albums like “1999,” the rock opera film and soundtrack “Purple Rain” and “Around the World in a Day,” before eventually disbanding in 1986.
“We remained friends and super close all the way through. So, when he passed the first people we reached out to was each other,” says drummer Bobby Rivkin (aka Bobby Z), calling it cathartic and exciting to be bringing songs like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry” and “Little Red Corvette” back to life with the original core “movie band,” including keyboardists Matt “Dr.” Fink and Lisa Coleman, guitarist Wendy Melvoin and bassist Mark Brown (aka Brownmark).
The Revolution originally had just six tribute dates planned for April, but the trek has since expanded to a cross-country tour through the end of July with more dates promised. They’ll play Chicago on April 23 and 24. There’s also been talk of releasing previously unrecorded material, once its ownership is determined by the courts. “We want to reach as many people as we can,” Rivkin says. “We understand this is not just about coming to see a band live, this is about grieving one of the greatest artists and musicians of all time.”
Rivkin is also quick to acknowledge the giant gap left by their former frontman, saying “We know there is humongous hole on the stage.” To try to compensate, they’ll have some special guests each night in addition to the group vocals, and Brown will be stepping up to the mic more due to his similar vocal range. “But we’re not trying to replace Prince,” Rivkin admits.
Of all the songs in the set list, he says “Purple Rain” is the hardest because it was such a personal song to Prince. He remembers the first time The Revolution performed it together again at an initial series of memorial shows at Minneapolis’ First Avenue last September, saying it was like “trudging through the mud; it just didn’t feel possible he was gone.”
Rivkin particularly felt the loss since he was more than just Prince’s musical collaborator, but a trusted friend and confidant for 43 years, by his side since the age of 19 when he replaced Prince’s cousin Charles Smith and became a sort of caretaker in the early days. “I remember, even before Prince was famous, he wouldn’t get out of my Ford Pinto Station Wagon because he knew he was a rock star,” he says, laughing at the memory. “By birth he was a rock star. I saw it early, and the rest of the world was just late in my opinion.”
Rivkin says Prince also thought he would die in rock star fashion. “He used to tell us he was going to be part of the ‘27 Club’ when he was in early 20s. He identified with Janis [Joplin] and Jimi [Hendrix].”
When Rivkin did find out about Prince’s death last year (calling it an “out of body experience”) it was on Twitter while he was searching hashtags for Paisley Park — the Minneapolis compound where Prince lived and worked until his death and has since been turned into a museum and concert venue. Though there has been much controversy over the latest direction, Rivkin says, “I know for a fact that’s what he wanted.”
Paisley Park was built after the “Purple Rain” era and Rivkin says it’s a stark contrast to the early days. “If people really knew how unorthodox those classic albums were recorded … Prince was a record anywhere type of guy. If you weren’t around, the machine didn’t stop. If you weren’t there, he recorded overnight. If you needed to sleep you needed to miss the whole song. It just never stopped.”
He recalls the band finally caught some time with “Purple Rain,” saying, “I think that’s the difference. That forced patience is what made the album what it is; it made him evaluate and rethink some songs.” The other piece was the incredible chemistry of The Revolution. “When Wendy and Lisa came in, he got that Fleetwood Mac dream that [Prince] wanted and was finally happy after all the band struggles. It was the band he wanted to be in, and we were very fortunate to have each other.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance music writer.