The station doors were locked. So we huddled outside in the chill under its roof. We had just come from the Bohemian restaurant on Burlington Road in Riverside. Express trains whizzed by while we waited for the 6:10.
Wally and Bernice had gotten us the tickets to see Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester at Orchestral Hall.
You may have seen Herr Raabe on Public Television. I came across him once while channel surfing. I didn’t know what to make of him. He was singing the popular songs of the 1920s and 30s. Some in German. Some in English. Was he a parody or an homage?
A few minutes after 8, the members of the Palast Orchester walked onto the stage and Max Raabe followed. I was to discover that Max and his accomplished entourage were a blend of both.
He was dressed sort of like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. That is, if you added a smidgen of stylized elegance. He stood at first in the shadows in front of the piano as the orchestra began to play. When the lights turned on him, he stepped forward, as he would do the whole evening, announced the composer, the lyricist, the year, and began singing.
He sang in the manner of that disillusioned and liberated time. He crooned. He reminded me not of Crosby who comes to mind when you say ‘crooner’. But his slender form, transcendent grace, even his hairline suggested Astaire.
Raabe’s nimble voice seemed to perfectly interpret every tune he sang. And many were introduced with a delightful wit not without the subtlest undercurrents of sexual dalliance and cynical sophistication.
Early on he sang Gershwin. “Let’s Do It” had just the right naughty playfulness. And so song after song. Each delivered de luxe. But my favorite was the hauntingly introspective “Stormy Weather”. With an exquisite piano backdrop, Raabe coaxed every nuance of emotion out of its melody.
But Raabe was not a one-man show. Every member of the orchestra had a moment (or several) to shine. The violinist, the sole female, gave an exhilaratingly bravura performance; as did the trumpeteer, jackhammering a Harry James number.
The sound was magnificent throughout. And the fun too. Three of the musicians joined Raabe in a exuberant rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”.
When Raabe announced the next number would be the last, the audience groaned in disappointment. But the last literally would leave a ringing in our ears. The musicians played it by ringing bells in different keys. It was a fitting way to end a grand night of singing. And masterful musicianship. Retro or not.