The Band is back

Photo by Olivia Perillo

Don’t do it! Don’t bring up that modern music, Blayze Viator doesn’t wanna hear none of it. But bring up The Band? Now, you’re talking a language Viator can understand.

The late ‘60s American group known as The Band (whose hits include “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “Chest Fever”) is a particular favorite of the Lafayette singer-songwriter/guitarist who performs solo and with his pop-rock band The Viatones.

Two shows next week find Viator and 20 other Lafayette musicians collaborating on stage, paying homage to The Band and the Martin Scorsese-directed farewell concert documentary, The Last Waltz.

Performances of The Last Waltz start at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, and Wednesday, Nov. 21, at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W. Vermilion St. Tickets are $28-$40. Purchase tickets and get more information here.

This week’s shows are the second time Viator has put together a live re-creation of The Last Waltz. The group of local musicians sharing the stage this time around is a veritable who’s who of local talent: Viator, Chris Stafford, Eric Adcock, Dave Trainer, (my boss at The Current) Christiaan Mader and Jim Kolacek star as The Band.

Guest performers include Dylan LeBlanc (as Eric Clapton), Roddie Romero (as Van Morrison), Lane Mack (as Ronnie Hawkins), Caleb Elliott (as Bob Dylan), Kelli Jones (as Joni Mitchell), Eric Schexnayder (as Neil Diamond), Anna Laura Edmiston (as Emmylou Harris), Wilson Savoy (as Dr. John), and Roger Kash (as Bobby Charles).

Julie Williams, Leah Graeff and Melissa Stevenson will perform as backup singers. Josh LeBlanc, Scott Landry, Tim McFatter and Tunde Soyombo play the horns section.

Nearing the end of a couple of months of rehearsals, Viator says the 2018 show might even be better than 2016’s.

“The first time we performed it [in 2016], I honestly didn’t know how it would go,” Viator says. “Everyone blew it out of the park. Despite being this big ensemble and trying to plan and coordinate schedules for rehearsing, it all went incredibly well.

“I’m hoping we can equal, if not top, that performance,” he adds. “We’re doing a few different things, a few new things. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s sounding really good so far. Honestly, it’s been sounding better than that first year.”

What makes the Lafayette production work is the attention to detail. The Last Waltz will have its source material, the 1978 rockumentary, projected in the background. When the show starts, the intro of the film begins, and the audience begins to see interviews Scorsese captured. As the movie cuts to a live performance, Viator and company will kick into live music. After a performance or two or three, the show cuts back to the movie.

“It totally sets the tone when you have something like (The Band’s multi-instrumentalist) Richard Manuel telling stories about stealing bologna and loaves of bread. It gets the audience laughing, and makes the audience feel the spirit of the film,” Viator says. “The spirit of The Band is in the room, and it feeds all of our performances.”

Viator thought of the idea a few years ago after playing a few of The Band’s tunes with guitarist John Troutman during a brunch gig. The duo noticed how cities like Austin and New Orleans were celebrating the film with live, local performances.

“How awesome would it be if we did that in Lafayette?” Viator remembers thinking.

With new leadership at the AcA, the Downtown venue was back on board for the return of The Last Waltz, as was Viator.

“Wilson Savoy and I started talking about that first show, the movie and how awesome it all was,” Viator says. “We were both thinking about how we wanted to do it again.”

During the concert, Viator plays rhythm guitars, sings drummer Levon Helm’s tunes, and a few Rick Danko tunes. Viator does an excellent Danko impression that he’s mastered over the years, to the point where he started playing “Danko does Hank-o (Hank Williams)” gigs.

“I just try to sound like I’m neurotic and could collapse at any moment,” Viator says of his Danko voice.

The Last Waltz is the type of performance that especially excites Viator. He still remembers when his dad brought home a copy of the movie. The first time Viator watched it, he was blown away. Talk to Viator about the movie, and he’ll tell you things some movie geeks wouldn’t know — how Neil Young’s nostril was recolored because of cocaine being all on his nose; how Danko’s bass was so out of tune during the concert that his takes had to be re-recorded; or how Helm threatened to kick Scorsese’s ass multiple times.

But this is more than just another concert for Viator. It’s an experience that he relishes.

“I love The Band and The Last Waltz, but I also enjoy the production aspect of it, too,” Viator says. “This isn’t just a concert. It runs more like an interactive play of sorts. It’s a live interpretation of the film.”