Curtiss A and his large Lennon ensemble last year at First Ave. / Photo by Tom Wallace

Curtiss A and his large Lennon ensemble last year at First Ave. / Photo by Tom Wallace


"Hey! Here's another Beatles song."

Nearing the end of his 31st annual tribute to John Lennon at First Avenue last night, Curtiss A didn't exactly have the element of surprise on his side. He made that no-duh comment to introduce "That Boy," around the 50th song of the night -- about four hours since he and his 15-plus-member band started. It was hardly a sign of anything waning, though. Even though he talked about enduring a heart attack and foot surgery and turning 60, Curt was a powerhouse to the end, actually sounding sturdier on vocals than he has for a few years. His bandmate Gary Rue recruited a couple of his young students to sing backup vocals, but they weren't needed in the end (although the comparisons I overheard in the crowd to 'Glee' and Ralph Macchio's Karate Kid made for good entertainment).

The first half of the show focused on the late-era Beatles material, namely the psychedelic stuff and especially "The White Album." This is where Curt's team shines the brightest each year, as it takes at least a dozen guys to bring a lot off those immaculate recordings to life (and they truly bring it), including "Strawberry Fields," "Glass Onion," "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me & My Monkey" and "Dear Prudence." Guitarist Steve Brantseg and keyboardist Greg Inhoffer were the MVPs in a lot of these tunes.

Things mellowed out at the end of the set, and some string players came out for "Good Night," Mr. A's contribution to the excellent new charity CD, "The Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 2." He then introduced Communist Daughter and Total Babe -- "all my children," he said -- who came out during the break and played their own tracks from the new CD: a gorgeous, slow-building take on "Golden Slumbers" and a light, laid-back "Revolution," respectively. Too bad we didn't get to hear anything else from either band.

The second set started off with some of the more somber, introspective songs, including "Imagine," "(Just Like) Starting Over," "In My Life" and a rather dull "Free as a Bird" (you could see why John never finished it). It soon got rocking again, though, with "Daytripper" and a bundle of tracks off "Help!" before the guys backstepped toward the beginning. They ended the set with "Please Please Me," "She Loves You" and "Twist & Shout" and encored with "Money," "Rock and Roll Music" and a Larry Williams montage. All the while, the Dean of Scream proved he still has his tenure.

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