Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester - McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ April 19, 2011

Last night we took a journey back in time to 1930's Berlin and the leader of our time travel was Max Raabe.  Raabe is a German singer and along with his band, the Palast Orchester, he specializes in recreating the sound and atmosphere of 20's and 30's Berlin.   The fact that he sings most of the songs in German would seem to be a distraction, but along with the rest of the concertgoers, Raabe and his orchestra pulled me into the world they created and the experience was amazing, refreshing and a unique experience I won't soon forget.

If you take the style and sophistication of Fred Astaire, the voice of Rudy Vallee, the sly wit and delivery of Noel Coward and the musical abilities of Cole Porter - and roll them all together and add a German accent you would get Max Raabe.  And while Raabe is the only member of the group that speaks to the audience, it is the combination of the vocal delivery of Raabe with the amazing musical abilities of the 12 piece Palast Orchester that make you feel like you've been transported back in time.  I honestly was expecting a character or two from the 1930's German set musicals Grand Hotel or Cabaret to come on the stage at any time throughout the concert.

The songs the group performs are songs of love and loss, mainly in German, sometimes in English, with a rumba, waltz or a German novelty number thrown in as well.  So, Raabe will give us a beautiful version of "Cheek to Cheek" followed by a German song about a Gorilla in a villa in the zoo.   Between the songs Raabe speaks to the audience to introduce the next song.  His brief announcements are delivered with a dry wit and an arched eyebrow.  After just his first humorous introduction the audience was waiting to see what he would say next.  He always announces the composer and the year the song was written as well as tells us something about the song - for example when speaking about a German Waltz he says, with perfect comic timing,  "It may not be as beautiful as a Vienesse Waltz, but it is louder" or when translating the main verse of an upcoming German song he'll say "this song translates to 'Last summer my heart was under great duress when I saw Rosa in her swimming dress'."   Though my favorite comment he made was when he said "this next song is about a young little miss.  Though the song doesn't use the word young, so it could be about an old little miss, but I believe it's about a young little miss as the song is too fast for it to be about an old little miss"

Some other highlights of the evening, a beautiful "Dream a Little Dream" that ended the evening, a rousing "Moon of Alabama" a haunting "Falling in Love Again" that Raabe sung in German as a quartet with three of his fellow band mates and the best performance I've ever heard of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" - Raabe was able to wring every nuance out of the lyrics and presented the song in a truly new light.

The most amazing thing to me though was that the Palast Orchester has no conductor.  Raabe doesn't conduct them, he actually steps back out of the spotlight when he isn't singing to let the Orchester take center stage.  The Orchester is so good that they know exactly the tempo to play and are always in sync.  The 12 piece group also adds much humor to the evening, whether it be playing the various characters in "Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?" or when they all become a bell chorus with one member who just wants to keep ringing his bell even if it isn't his turn.   These humorous interjections made the evening more of like a party where you were happy to be one of the invited quests.

Raabe and the Palast Orchester have played at the McCarter Theatre, as well as at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center numerous times, but this was the first time we saw them.  I think this was their last performance in the U.S. on their current tour, but if you are interested in this type of music, and are feeling a little adventurous, I'd definitely recommend seeing them if they come to a town near you.

Raabe and the Palast Orchester have recorded several cds, including a live cd when they performed at Carnegie Hall,  as well as a couple of live video recordings- links are below as well as some video clips from Youtube - definitely check them out!

Max's Official Site

Amazon link for the cd of Heute Nacht Oder Nie: Live in New York

Amazon link for the cd of Wochenend Und Sonnenschein

Amazon link for the cd of  Kurt Weill: Life, Love, & Laughter--Dance Arrangements, 1927-50

Amazon link for the cd of "Kein Schwein Ruft Mich An"

Amazon link for the dvd of  Max Raabe and Palast Orchester: Dance & Film Music of 1920s

Amazon link for for the dvd of  Heute Nacht Oder Nie: Live in Berlin

Compilation video that includes interview clips with Raabe as well as highlights of several of the groups' songs:

"Cheek to Cheek" -  

"Over My Shoulder" - 

"Dream a Little Dream" - 

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