Curt Almsted had something of a change of heart this summer after his drummer, John “Bongo” Haga, bought him a ticket for Paul McCartney’s concert at Target Field.
“There were several songs that I’ve really never cared for,” Almsted — better known as Curtiss A — recalled of the show. “But I realized: They’re still Beatles songs. They still make you feel good. They’re still what I’d want to listen to if I get sent to the moon by myself.”
Returning to First Avenue on Monday for the 35th annual installment of his John Lennon tribute concert, the Twin Cities’ hard-headedly altruistic rock hero mentioned his new soft spot for McCartney after being asked to name his least favorite of the John Lennon songs he performs every Dec. 8, the day the Beatle was murdered. (Almsted led an impromptu tribute on that night in 1980.)
“It turned into a beautiful thing,” said Almsted, who also performs a monthly gig Wednesday at the Schooner Tavern in south Minneapolis with his bluesier band Dark Click. “I’m still happy to play any of these songs.”
Still, he’s more happy playing certain Lennon songs than others.
Favorite Lennon song: “Any Time at All”
“Every year when we get to it, I always say, ‘And now, time for my favorite song.’ I don’t know why, really. There’s something about that song that kills me. It’s just so positive and full of love, like, ‘Anytime you need me, call me. I’ll be there.’ It almost makes me cry thinking about it.
“When it gets to the middle, it has a piano solo that was played by John, Paul and George Martin, all three of them on the same piano. We re-create that in a way, with piano and two guitars. It’s fun.”
Least favorite: “The Ballad of John and Yoko”
“For one thing, just John and Paul played on it. Paul played drums, piano and bass. That’s one of the things that broke the Beatles up was Paul wanting to play everything. It’s also just a copy of Johnny Burnette’s ‘Lonesome Tears in My Eyes.’
“I find it just to be a cliché-ridden song. Really, I just don’t care about the ordeals of the rich. You know: ‘Eating chocolate cake in bed.’ That sounds great to me! However, the mayor likes it [St. Paul’s Chris Coleman], so we’ve done it for him.”
Most challenging: “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
“It’s such a wicked song. That ‘Mother Superior’ part in particular, you really have to count it right. It’s like ‘1-2-3 … 1-2-3-4.’ You need a guy waving a fricking baton to keep it together. We’ve practiced ‘Happiness’ so many times, way more than any other song. But we still do it every year, because it’s just so good. And so creepy.”
Most emotional: “In My Life”
“It’s emotional because, when I do it, I always mention the people who’ve died that year, and it seems like every year now I have a [expletive] friend die — and some years more than one. This past year it was [music critic] Tom Hallett, a guy who just breathed and ate rock music even though he didn’t play rock music.
“And now we’re very emotional this year about Vik [Victor Johnson], our guitar player, who has terminal cancer. This will probably be his last year in the show, so we’re doing something special for him. He wanted to hear ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ So we’re going to try to re-create it from the record with a string quartet. That’s going to be special for everybody in the band.”