A Rave for Max Raabe & Palast Orchester

United StatesUnited States  Max Raabe & Palast Orchester, “One Cannot Kiss Alone”: Max Raabe & Palast Orchester, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. 3.3.2012 (BH)

Cecilia Crisafulli, violin
Thomas Huder, trumpet, vocals
Michael Enders, trumpet, vocals
Jörn Ranke, trombone, viola, vocals
Bernd Frank, tenor sax, clarinet
Johannes Ernst, alto sax, clarinet
Sven Bährens, alto sax, clarinet
Rainer Fox, baritone sax, clarinet, vocals
Vincent Riewe, drums, percussion
Bernd Hugo Dieterich, double bass, sousaphone
Ulrich Hoffmeier, guitar, banjo, violin
Ian Wekwerth, piano

Michael Enders, musical director
Frank Ebeling, production manager

“This is a German waltz…not as elegant as a waltz from Vienna – but much louder,” cooed bandleader Max Raabe, in his über-witty show with the Palast Orchester at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dressed to the nines in white tie and tails, Raabe makes a droll Weimar-era host (think Joel Grey in Cabaret, but more polished – and even more sinister) whose creamy baritone is ideally suited to his supper-club fare of German and American songs from the 1920s and 1930s.

Part of Raabe’s brilliance is due to this impeccably molded persona, a throwback described by Toronto-based writer Trevor Haldenby as “a baby born during the signing of the armistice in Compiègne Forest, and left untouched by most of the traces of time in the century since.” But much of the giddy result comes from the adroit arrangements of standards (Raabe loves Cole Porter) to get the maximum mileage from his crack band, most of whom play multiple instruments – and sing. Bernd Hugo Dieterich gives rhythmic backbone on the double bass, then suddenly hoists a sousaphone; Ulrich Hoffmeier plays a mean banjo as well as guitar, and then finds a violin. And in an uproarious sequence near the end of the show, the entire band morphed into a Whac-a-Mole version of a bell choir.

But Raabe and his crew – with a whiff of Spike Jones – offer more than just sophisticated musical hijinks. Their take on “Falling in Love Again” (here done in the German version, “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt”) had Raabe showing a tender side – if a fleeting one – nestling snugly next to Dietrich. And Ernesto Lecuona’s classic “Siboney” oozed nostalgia, with a star turn for violinist Cecilia Crisafulli (the band’s sole woman), elegantly clad in red amid a sea of black and white.

After awhile the humorous asides – each delivered with the comic timing of a master – began to pile up like strewn-about toys. “Veronika, der Lenz ist da” is a song about a woman, spring, and…asparagus, “since asparagus is a sign of spring.” “A species known as smokers” introduces “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and for one song in German (non-speakers hardly needed a translation) Raabe soberly explained, “This song is about a young little miss…because it  is too fast to be about an ‘old’ little miss.” And my favorite, as Raabe introduced his jolly romp of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”: “Music has always been aligned with destiny and personal tragedy. [pause] Who cares?”

The technical crew deserves high praise for this intricately choreographed 80 minutes or so. Each time Raabe announced a song, he stepped into a pool of light that appeared as precisely as if triggered by his footfall. The sound balance (everyone miked) was superb. And the band knew exactly when to chime in (those bells!), sway in unison or scamper around the stage. As encores, Raabe and his players offered “Dream a Little Dream” and “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” each as deadpan – and as transporting – as their predecessors.

Bruce Hodges