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The Revolution pays tribute to its fallen leader, Prince

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The Revolution
Larry Williams
Matt Wardlaw

A year after the sudden death of Prince, his friends and associates are still trying to move forward. The members of The Revolution are using music to aid their own healing, reuniting for their first tour in more than 30 years. This month also marks the arrival of an expanded edition of the classic Purple Rain soundtrack, which adds two discs of additional content, including unreleased tracks and a classic live performance. We spoke with keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink and drummer Bobby Z to discuss the tour and their purple memories.

Your setlist looks like a cool mix of hits and deeper tracks. Which songs were especially important to include? Bobby Z: “Roadhouse Garden” and “Our Destiny” from the Purple Rain deluxe—these unreleased tracks are just fascinating. There was such a whirlwind of recording activity at that time. He was moving so fast—he would record something and mix it and it would just go in the vault or be put away, never heard about again. To play these live is like an archaeological dig.

How did you go about working out the live sequence? Matt Fink: We each created a setlist of our own, and then we compared notes and discovered that there were similar likes and requests. Then we had to hone it down. We had to mull it over and have a little debate session.

The reissue presents both unreleased tracks and some longer versions of things that people know, like “Computer Blue.” How much did these songs evolve as you were working on them as a band? Bobby Z: By the time The Revolution would do deep rehearsals and recorded this stuff, most Prince songs were 20-25 minutes long. (Laughs.) He had the ability to stretch them out and then was a brilliant editor. He knew where to cut these songs to make them singles.

“Computer Blue” was kind of sketched out before he had heard the piece written by his father that we know as “Father’s Song” now. So that was basically inserted, and the transition is a musically challenging passage where “Computer Blue” just kind of stops …and then it goes into some of the most beautiful melody. It gets me every night still, that melody, that “Father’s Song.”

Matt Fink: All of the major songs on Purple Rain had long versions. Just about any single that he ever did, especially dance singles, had special versions that he’d record in the studio for 12-inch versions for DJs and clubs. Most of the time, the group was not privy to those. He would do a version with the group, and then he’d go in there and extend it.

The original album is such a tight nine-track record. What are your memories about putting the final touches on that record? Were there things that Prince agonized about cutting? Bobby Z: He always agonized about cutting things. If he had it his way, they’d all be triple albums, and each song would be 25 minutes long. He was always struggling to make things commercial or compromised, in his opinion. But I think the delay in making the movie distilled the album down for him. It became pretty clear.

You know, he recorded “The Beautiful Ones” kind of at the 11th hour. It was a stunning piece of work, just timeless and incredible, something we really can’t touch, not without him.

Matt Fink: Prince worked out close to 70 tracks before the film was put into motion. The script was being worked on pretty much all of the summer of 1983 leading up to filming in the fall and early winter months. Prince and [director] Al Magnoli sat down and listened to all of the demos that Prince made for the movie, and then they narrowed that down.

Songs like “Moonbeam Levels,” which has now been released out of the vault, was originally slated to be in the movie, but they made the decision not to use it, for whatever reason. I was just there to perform and learn material. The demos were all done by him in the studio, without the group there. That’s how it worked. He was in control, fully in control of all those aspects.

Was it typical for Prince to work up that much extra material? Matt Fink: He wrote a song a day—literally. I think he had a lot of songs that he’d already written when the movie came up, and then he probably wrote an additional 15 to 30 more songs. And then he crafted songs like “When Doves Cry” and “Take Me With U” toward the end of the process, within the filming of the movie. There were some songs that were tailor-made for the film, while filming or in post-production, because of what came out along the storyline.

Bobby Z: He always had songs in his head. Give him 36 hours and you might have a song written, mixed, played, mastered and ready to go. The creativity was super-human.

What do you recall being the biggest challenges you faced as a band working on the Purple Rain record? Bobby Z: I think he was kind of distracted with the film process, so we didn’t have his full attention. We had to work out a lot of stuff on our own. We were basically there 15 hours a day, perfecting these songs that are still trying to be perfected, even tonight. I always say that Prince’s music may be two and four rhythmically or 4/4 time, but he had a lot of things going on between the four notes. Eighth notes, sixteenth notes, he really figured out where to put this music in spots that are pleasing to listen to time and time again, but it’s a little challenging to play every night. That’s Prince.

What’s been the most interesting thing about these current shows? Matt Fink: This is all very bittersweet for all of us because he was starting to entertain the idea of working with The Revolution again in reality. We’d been in touch with him about it, and he started to warm up to the idea. Of course, he was heavily involved with 3rdeyegirl and [also] doing his Piano & A Microphone tour. But we really believed that after all of those projects, he was going to consider a reunion of some sort—probably just some shows here and there, maybe some new material. I think that was going to happen, and now we feel like we need to carry on a little more [of] his legacy, to bring the music back to the fans and help them get through some mourning. And also for ourselves.

Bobby Z: We’re not trying to fill the hole. We know that he’s not onstage. We’re just trying to create the energy of the music to be true to the music. We’re not going to be around forever either, so it’s just a moment in time when the music lives again. And he lives with it. People get a sense of closure. You can tell.

Would you guys want to do a record together? Matt Fink: If there’s time. We’re talking about it. It’s just a question of when do you find the time. And when do you break from other things that each band was doing before the tour started. We know we want to continue playing as a group into the future. It just has to be handled properly. But we think we’re going to be able to make it work.

The Revolution June 21, 8:30 p.m., $35-$60. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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