I have to admit: when I first heard the Revolution were reuniting, I wasn’t sure what to think. The very notion of the Revolution without Prince sounded bizarre, like Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding getting together to tour as the Experience sans Hendrix. But when I read the reports from their first set of shows in Minneapolis last year, suddenly it made sense. This was, in many ways, less a conventional rock reunion than an act of collective mourning. All of us, the majority of whom never met the man in person, felt a profound loss when Prince passed; so how does one even fathom what it meant to the people who shared some of his most successful and creatively fertile years? And if listening to “Sometimes It Snows in April” helps to process our grief, can we really blame Wendy and Lisa–who were, as Wendy recalled last night, actually present and involved in the song’s composition–for singing it to process theirs?
Yet even after I understood the reunion, I still didn’t know what to expect. I was two years old when the Revolution disbanded, so they always seemed frozen in time to me: forever lip-syncing on the First Avenue stage in Purple Rain. Did I really want to see them in their fifties–not to mention without the pint-sized whirling dervish of musical and sexual energy who had always been the group’s unambiguous focal point?
Because I’m sure I’m not the only arrogant thirtysomething with these misgivings, allow me to answer my own question: yes, I did want to see the Revolution. Astonishing as it may be, 30 years later, they still have it. They aren’t quite the well-oiled machine they were in the mid-’80s–how could they be, without their tiny slavedriver in heels cracking the whip?–but they can still ride a cyborg funk groove like nobody else. More importantly, they’re clearly having a blast: Brown Mark remembering way more of his old dance steps than one could have reasonably expected; Dr. Fink still iconically geeky in scrubs and shades; Bobby Z as rock-solid a timekeeper as ever; Wendy and Lisa now delightfully resembling the coolest lesbian moms we could ever ask for. Seeing them–real, appropriately aged, and in person, not immortal in celluloid and Aquanet–is wonderfully humanizing. And if the band missed a few cues here and there, then maybe that’s for the better, too. Prince, as we all know, was perfect, until suddenly–and tragically–he was not. Maybe the best way to remember him is to embrace our humanity and imperfections, and the fact that we’re still alive to appreciate them.
Certainly, as a Prince fan who never got on board with his family-friendly 21st-century reinvention, I appreciated being able to remember him with a few cuss words intact. Having witnessed the bowldlerized Musicology tour version of “D.M.S.R.,” it felt goddamn liberating to be in a room full of people–onstage and off–singing the proper “shake your body like a whore” line. The Revolution never got truly nasty last night, which is probably for the best: songs like “Head” and “Jack U Off” are better left to the one person who could really pull them off. But “Erotic City,” for example, was a pleasure to hear; and if a room full of consenting adults singing “we can fu(n/c)k until the dawn” is an affront to God, then I don’t particularly want to go to heaven anyway.
My favorite part of the show, however, was the way it underlined these songs’ continued relevance and vitality. Yes, on one level, this was about a bunch of quarter-to-middle-aged people (and I absolutely include myself in that description) grasping desperately at the thing that made their childhoods/twenties/whatever feel magical. We were there, as Prince once dismissively put it, to “get our Purple Rain on.” And on that level, it absolutely worked: seeing an ebullient Stokley Williams of Mint Condition lead the band on “Baby I’m a Star” made me nostalgic for things I wasn’t even alive for. But–and maybe this is still the nostalgia talking–the music also felt stunningly of-the-moment, in a way that even I as a fan wasn’t fully conscious of before.
I’m just going to come out and say it: in today’s political climate, “1999”’s defiant pleasure in the face of impending apocalypse has never felt quite so real. The binary-smashing identity politics of “Controversy” and “Uptown” have never felt quite so radical. Even “America,” which always felt like an ideological muddle of protest and patriotism, takes on new life, its critique of racial and economic inequality finally triumphing over its sense of Cold War paranoia. Maybe, in this grim, desperate Trump era, what we need is music from the equally grim, desperate Reagan era–music that is neither grim nor desperate, but almost, well, revolutionary in its optimism. That’s how I felt last night, anyway. And if hearing those songs made me feel for even a couple of minutes like there was some light at the end of This Thing Called Life, then I’d say my money and time were well spent. Vive la Révolution.
Next week, we’ll be jumping forward again in time with–I almost can’t believe I’m writing this–a post on the newly-released version of “Electric Intercourse,” from the long-awaited Purple Rain reissue. I also have a post queued up imagining another possible timeline for the early incarnation of the Revolution; last but not least, there’s the third installment of my podcast with Jane Clare Jones. Exciting times! Have a good weekend.