“The problem is, we're missing our commander in chief”: Wendy & Lisa on performing at First Avenue with The Revolution to play Purple Rain without Prince

Wendy, Lisa and Prince
Wendy, Prince and Lisa receiving the Best Original Song Oscar for Purple Rain in 1985. (Image credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The summer of 1984 belonged to Prince. First came the Purple Rain album, on 25 June, followed by the film of the same name, which landed in cinemas a month later. Both were huge, and their combined success turned Prince into a global superstar.

Now, as the Purple Rain project celebrates its 40th anniversary, Prince’s former band The Revolution are reuniting at First Avenue, the Minneapolis nightclub where the iconic live performances featured in the movie were shot, to perform the album in front of a devoted crowd.

Given Prince’s untimely death, in 2016, it will be a bittersweet moment for all concerned, but one that guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboard player Lisa Coleman, two key members of The Revolution and known outside of the band as Wendy & Lisa, seem determined to enjoy.

“It was just a cool idea, because that's where the movie was filmed - all the music scenes were done there - and so we're gonna have some fun,” Coleman tells Variety. “[We're] not recreating it, but almost recreating it.”

On whether she had a sense that the film was going to be a success when they were shooting it, Melvoin says: “I knew just by the music sequences that this was going to catapult him. And I wasn't wrong. I didn't know what people would think of the acting or the narrative part of it, and that came later, and I really didn't concentrate much on that at the time. I was very young. But the music sequences, I knew he was going to be a household name by that point. I was like, ‘This is it, it's a done deal.’"

Wendy & Lisa were also asked about the extended versions of several Purple Rain songs, which were recorded by a mobile unit while the band jammed on the First Avenue stage. These appeared on the Deluxe Edition of the album that was released in 2017, but, when quizzed about them, Wendy says that, although she’d “love to” do it, playing them at the 40th anniversary show wouldn’t feel right.

“No, we're gonna hit it and quit it,” she confirms. “We're going to just play a kind of truncated version. I would love to do a three-hour show and have it all be our extended versions, but the problem is, we're missing our commander in chief. And to do those things without him, we just feel funny about it.”

Expanding on this, Lisa explains that The Revolution always relied on Prince’s cues. “We needed him to conduct, so it's a little hard,” she points out. “It's a little strange to do those things without him there.”

There will be no attempt to replace Prince on stage, either - Wendy calls the very idea of doing this “ridiculous”. Instead, they’ll rely on the fans - “Audience participation - it's like the ultimate karaoke night except you're with the real band,” she suggests.

The Revolution’s First Avenue gig takes place on 21 June, and forms part of this weekend’s Prince Celebration, a series of events being organised by the Prince Estate. Wendy & Lisa, meanwhile, are currently working on new music with Annie Lennox, and hope to release an album with her early next year.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.