I can be an impatient man. Knowing the importance of His Majesty to me, my slave-drivers had cleared the path for me to escape the cash-clock with ample time to see Prince’s former band, The Revolution, play live in London together for the first time since 1986.
Nineteen Eighty-Six. 33 years ago. Reagan was President (I didn’t know him).
Attending this seminal event, in spite of its unfortunate circumstances, was of the utmost importance (as you may have now ascertained), and I was prepared to arrive 5 years early in order to make sure I was physically present to see Wendy, Lisa, Brownmark, Dr. Fink and Bobby Z emerge on stage and suitably lose my shit.
Easy C and El Mascarado had other ideas.
Having “gone for a swim” the duo messaged to say they were stuck in traffic. I was already en route to their house with beverages to wet the whistle and share excitement prior to the Big Event. Agitation does not even begin to summarise my physical state. A fucking swim? Sweating, nervous, and checking my watch as they arrived, we hurriedly sank our beers before scurrying underground to propel ourselves towards the Shepherd’s Bush Empire at great speeds, where we had a rendez-vous with a Cuzomano and Easy C invité, who we shall henceforth refer to as “The Subordinate.”
The Subordinate, Easy C, El Mascarado and I purchased some comically large 2-pint flagons of lager before positioning ourselves with a rock solid view of the stage and preparing ourselves to hear some of the finest music ever created, played by the masters themselves.
It goes without saying that The Revolution live in the shadow of Prince, The Great One, and it would be labouring the point to talk about how absent He is from the performance. More importantly, I would argue, to do so is a disservice to the band (as you will soon learn); the type of person who wants to see The Revolution live is either a Prince fan or a quite serious Music nut, so to frame their performance in the context of Prince’s absence is lazy. Prince is dead. We get it, fans get it, everyone gets it. It’s bloody awful, but it happened. For the fans, seeing The Revolution is catharsis. It is also – for many – the realisation of a dream, albeit bittersweet. The most important thing, however, is how fucking great they are.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Revolution.”
And just like that, we’re off to the races. Words I have yearned to hear for so long, said so quickly that I’ve barely begun to whoop before a kick drum beats, interjected by an all too familiar snare on the two-and-four. America opens a set packed full of hit after hit after hit after hit.
One of the most remarkable elements of The Revolution’s performance is the lack of chit-chat. This is full-throttle entertainment – no bullshit. America has barely finished as Computer Blue begins. Computer Blue! Actually being performed by The Revolution! Prince never played Computer Blue!
The centre of the stage, where Prince would be, is left empty in tribute, with Wendy, Lisa and Brownmark supplying vocals. Loathe as I am to write this, the atmosphere is so ecstatic, with everyone singing and dancing, that one almost gets over Prince’s absence. The Revolution are absolutely phenomenal live. I can think of no contemporary artist of the same level of popularity as this band were in 1984 that possesses anything close to the same level of skill and performance. That is not to say they can’t be beaten – it is to underline that Prince’s band from the height of his superstardom are, in their own right, some of the fiercest pop musicians operating today, and they have one hell of a repertoire to draw on.
Just read the songs that follow Computer Blue (the setlist is embedded as a playlist at the end): Mountains, Take Me With U, Uptown, DMSR, 17 Days, Raspberry Beret, Erotic City – have you squealed yet? There’s more – Let’s Work, Sometimes It Snows In April, Let’s Go Crazy, Delirious, Controversy, Kiss, When Doves Cry, Purple Rain. All of this performed live. Back to back. With no talking. Someone get me a tambourine.
Absolutely every song is played with such pristine timing and musicianship that one feels Prince is still in the room (and I’m sure that’s what he would have wanted). The rigorous training that he so famously put his bands through is alive and well like muscle-memory, as each of the members of the band feed and play off each other. Brownmark is in the midst of a furious bass solo when Stokely, guest vocalist and Mint Condition singer, smells under his armpit and yells “Someone get this man some Febreeze!” It might seem corny, but it’s classic Revolution-era Prince humour, performed by real musicians playing real music. It is sublime.
Superfans will have noticed, during a roaring rendition of Controversy, that the band broke the jam down and played licks from unreleased ultra-jam Soulpsychodelicide. Indeed, during the only interlude for chat, Wendy promises a return to London for “deeper cuts.” One salivates at the prospect.
The only song to cut through the wall of incessantly funky pop tracks is an immensely moving rendition of Sometimes It Snows In April, now the semi-official song to mark Prince’s passing. During the intimate acoustic performance by Wendy & Lisa, the Subordinate turns to me and says “This is fucking great.” Indeed it is. El Mascarado also turned to me to say “I want Wendy to be my mum.” I don’t. My mother is an immensely caring and kind woman whom I love endlessly, but I’ll concede that Wendy is funky as all hell and she tells it straight. We need more musicians like Wendy today.
The crowd is invited to sing along to Purple Rain, because it’s “our song” now. More pleasant catharsis, but it’s the encore that had yours truly jumping. After nearly 5 minutes of sustained, gleeful applause, The Revolution re-emerged to close with I Would Die 4 U and Baby, I’m A Star.
The setlist and rapturous review above should be enough to convince you, but in case not, know this: El Mascarado and the Subordinate were not totally familiar with Prince’s immense legacy (although they have had to endure me ranting about it endlessly) upon arrival, and both left effusive in their praise for The Revolution. Were we to Pitchfork this, it would be a 9.0 at the very least.
See The Revolution live if you ever have the chance. Now and forever and always.
You will not regret it.