Written by Alex Metcalfe
Who needs holograms to relive great concert experiences and artists when you can do it with top-tier musical talents and ridiculously decent costumes instead?
If I want to see a video recording of a great performance, I'll buy the DVD (or find the .avi file) and watch that thing on a screen. However, If I want to see a great performance live in concert, I'd prefer it be done by real people.
That's exactly what I got to see last night when local Toronto singer-songwriter Cat Lewis performed his second annual Purple Revolution Prince Tribute at the Mod Club Theatre.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing what Prince looks like dancing around as a semi-translucent digital projection, but I was glad to see a young, talented Prince fan bring the pop music icon's biggest album Purple Rain (and some additional select Prince hits to life) with all the swagger, singing and sex appeal (shirts were removed, ladies) that Prince had back in 1984 when Purple Rain dominated every pop, rock and R&B chart.
Purple Revolution performed Purple Rain almost in its entirety, using the album's track order to craft an exciting set and a double encore. The show's highlight was, undoubtedly, the 12-ish minute grand finale of "Purple Rain."
Purple Revolution were smart about making this the best Prince tribute that it could have been, adding Prince hits like "Kiss" and "Little Red Corvette" to ensure there was as much of Prince's accessible material as possible. The crowd response proved that to be a smart idea.
Were Prince's songs faithfully reproduced on stage in the same arrangements you hear on the Purple Rain recording, though? God no. Songs like show opener "Let's Go Crazy" and "I Would Die For U" were turned in to glorious funk jams that offered guitar, bass and keyboard solo opportunities galore, highlighting Toronto's top session musician talent that backed up Cat Lewis for this Purple Revolution tribute.
A lot of quality production went in to Purple Revolution. Sound engineering and lighting effects were flawless, and each of the band members had a fun – if not hilariously awkward – costume that made them look the part of Prince's own backup band, The Revolution. Cat Lewis played Toronto's most convincing Prince as well, and deserves commendation for animating such a complex, iconic individual. With an artist like Prince, it's not enough to don a meticulously-fitted purple overcoat and suede high-heel boots; no, you need to become the man. And Cat Lewis does with enough cool to spare.
So, what's the equation at play with Purple Revolution? What makes a show like this work so damn well? Let's look at its parts. A young, gifted musician (Cat Lewis) who brings together a fellowship of equally gifted instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers; he takes a culturally definitive pop music legend – Prince – and then looks for ways to turn Prince's acclaimed material in to a modern concert experience that does two things: celebrate the Toronto artistic community and celebrate invaluable popular music artifacts like Purple Rain.
When you think about it, the Purple Revolution equation does with Prince what artists in Toronto's well-established classical and jazz communities do with their own genres' heroes: Toronto jazz and classical musicians use their own artistic faculties to bring the material produced by definitive artists to life, celebrating the genre's history while simultaneously showcasing the local artist's own talents and what they bring to the genre. Head over to The Rex or Roy Thomson Hall on any day of the week and you'll find Toronto's jazz and classical artists doing just that.
Purple Revolution was an exercise in using today's bona-fide, authentic musical talent to authentically recreate the pop music talent of yesteryear. And it proved that Toronto is the right place to make it work. Cat Lewis suggested he might ride a motorbike on to the stage to start next year's show. If he does, then I suggest taking Purple Revolution to a bigger stage to make it work – and so more Torontonians can enjoy this exciting concert experience!