By the Way

How do you make Gen-Xers cry? Play ‘Purple Rain’ and the tears shall flow

The Revolution play to a sold-out crowd at the Joy Theater in New Orleans on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018.
The Revolution play to a sold-out crowd at the Joy Theater in New Orleans on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. jclark@sunherald.com

It was all about dancing with strangers.

Actually, it about a lot more. It was about mourning and healing and it was poignant and funky and sweaty.

But mostly it was all about Prince.

The Revolution returned to New Orleans for the first time as a group since a little show at the then-Louisiana Superdome in 1985. Yes, Prince and The Revolution played the Dome on the “Purple Rain” tour. While the Joy Theater on Canal Street may not have the capacity of the Dome, quality is as important as quantity.

Thursday’s sold-out show allowed those in attendance to have their own unique Gulf Coast “First Avenue” experience — the experience of seeing The Revolution play a smoking set in small place with a 1,000 or so people. If this doesn’t make sense, then you should probably watch the film “Purple Rain.” Also, shoot me an email and I’ll gladly make a Prince-starter playlist for you.

The Revolution — Wendy, Lisa, Dr. Fink, Bobby Z and Brown Mark, who were joined by singer Stokely Williams on a few numbers — opened their return to New Orleans with the “Around The World In A Day” rocker “America,” which seemed a lot darker than when it was released in 1985, especially in the week after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida.

But The Revolution had no problem shifting and building moods. It was equal parts somber and festive and beautiful and funky. And my oh my was it funky.

The band went deep into Prince’s catalog, playing new wave funk nuggets like “Controversy,” “Uptown,” “All Day, All Night,” “Let’s Work” and “DMSR.” They also played many of the hits including most of the “Purple Rain” album, “Raspberry Beret,” “1999” and “Kiss.”

There’s a reason Prince hand-picked this band to record and tour with him for several years — because they are all excellent players in their own right, but put them together and you have have more than just a funk band, you have one of the all-time greatest rock bands that plays dance music. I know I just used a superlative, but this is about one of my favorite bands — The Revolution. Do you really want to live in a world without superlative? I don’t.

The Revolution also tackled some difficult material and you could still see the tears in their eyes and anguish on their faces some two years after Prince’s death. I get that.

The pain was very apparent when Wendy and Lisa bravely played “Sometimes It Snows in April,” a song they co-wrote with Prince that was on the “Parade” album. It was absolutely heartbreaking. The theater was so quiet during the performance you could could hear every word coming off of Wendy’s lips as well as lots of sniffling and crying. Everyone was crying.

“Purple Rain,” the first set’s closer, was also a difficult number for both band and the audience. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when The Revolution is playing “Purple Rain” and an entire room is crying, you missed your chance if you missed Thursday’s show.

It’s important to know that The Revolution isn’t a Prince “tribute band” — at all. These woman and men were friends and musical collaborators of Prince. As much as he influenced them, it’s almost certain that influenced him, as well. That’s what happens when you’re in a band.

The Revolution are as relevant know as they were in 1984. If the rock gods are smiling upon us, perhaps they will one day make a record of new material. If not, we will always have “Erotic City” in New Orleans.

I’ll always be grateful to Lisa, Wendy, Dr. Fink, Brown Mark, Bobby Z and Prince for the way they changed my life when I was a young teen. As a fan of both Prince and The Revolution, I appreciate them for throwing a party where we could pay our respects and get some closure after the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. Thanks for letting the Gulf Coast say goodbye.

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