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Student Spotlight: Greg Hicks on How Max Raabe’s Tailored Tuxes Will Open Your Mind

Photo: Max Raabe rides his bicycle. He performs with his Palast Orchester on April 9, 2015 at Hill Auditorium. Photo by Marcus Hoehn.

Max Raabe and Palast Orchester are a well-groomed lot, both musically and visually — trained at the Berlin University of the Arts, tux-friendly, hair parted to one side — and that very sense of aesthetic perfection is what makes Raabe and company so unpredictable. While every tux is tailored to perfection and every stray hair is combed into place, Raabe’s creative persona throws the experience of the performance off-kilter in the best way.

The Raabe method of approach is to give a taste of vintage formality to a situation that might not­ require it. Past examples from Raabe include (but are not limited to):

  • Using a condenser microphone to sing a live cover of Britney Spears’s “Oops…I Did It Again.”
  • Wearing a tux while singing a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
  • Singing the 1930s hit “Dream a Little Dream” at music festivals.

Take a walk through Max Raabe and Palast Orchester’s photo gallery and you’ll get the same impression. You’re greeted with a photo of Raabe riding a bike — no-handed — through a city road whilst wearing his classic tuxedo, giving a casual grin to the photographer.

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester
The Palast Orchester. Photo by Marcus Hoehn.

As you continue your photo exploration, you’ll find Raabe and the eleven other members of the Palast Orchester crammed into a paddleboat, instruments in hand, dressed in tuxes, casually floating along the lake. In further shots, Raabe is photographed mostly-submerged in the lake, head popping out, staring directly into the camera — still dressed in his tux. Oh, and there’s also a duck floating past him.

Why the constant throw-back attire, Mr. Raabe?

For one thing, cherry picking visual styles all the way back to the 1920s establishes an image to “not look the type” to perform contemporary music brands — allowing Raabe to shock and surprise audiences with well-orchestrated versions of relatively modern radio hits like “Oops…I Did It Again” and “We Will Rock You.” And Raabe isn’t the only notable artist to visually belong to one era of music while successfully surprising listeners with renditions of another.

Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga showcased a similar visual deception — though in her case, pop aesthetic combined with jazz standards. Unlike Raabe, Gaga often exemplifies the most contemporary, dynamic image in her style, and on her latest record Cheek to Cheek, Gaga  melded this persona into a record consisting of classic jazz hits sung with jazz icon Tony Bennett.

World-wide pop-rock sensation Robbie Williams (who often displays a “bad boy” stylistic persona) used a similar technique on his unexpected 2001 jazz standard cover album Swing When You’re Winning and again in 2013 with Swings Both Ways.

Pop diva Christina Aguilera went so far as to release an album of entirely original tracks in throwback production style on Back to Basics. Aguilera, Williams, and Gaga were all heavily praised for their surprising capabilities to sing in these unexpected genres.

And here on the flip side, we have Max Raabe, who takes a vintage image and displays his capabilities in the realm of popular music.

The visual foundation of the German old-style group is something that, upfront, audiences might take very seriously, given the formal vintage look. But upon observing the group’s surprising photoshoots and song cover choices, a new open-mindedness with a taste for the abstract and a quirky sense of humor might unfold.

When Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester performed previously in Ann Arbor, UMS gave fans the opportunity to sample their own vintage attire in an in-venue photo booth, and the same is encouraged this year. Come dressed in your best 1920s fashions, but don’t forget to bring your sense of humor as well!

Max Raabe and Palast Orchester perform at Hill Auditorium on April 9, 2015.

Interested in more? Explore even more audience photo booth photos from Max Raabe’s last appearance in Ann Arbor.


From our photo booth at Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

More photo booth here.

Welcome to the Cabaret

With UMS offices on Liberty Street,  lab cafe has become a favorite go-to spot for our caffeinated indulgences. (Seriously, a fair amount of our emails, program books, and community engagement activities are fueled by that coffee!) Tobias Wacker, owner of lab, has been talking to us about Max Raabe ever since we announced the 11/12 season. Toby’s enthusiasm is so infectious that we felt it would be a true disservice to keep it to ourselves. So here it is, in his own words for your reading enjoyment.

Growing up in Villingen-Schwenningen, my German parents loved Max Raabe. Parties were not really parties without some Max and his Palast Orchester. Things got even better once we had a VCR and were able to watch his performances on TV. Frankly, the whole thing seemed rather strange to me at the time. Why are we listing to old timey tunes with silly lyrics like “my little green cactus is sitting outside on the balcony?” Why are they performing inside a circus tent? Long before the 1920s became the decade of choice for hip kids, Max Raabe transported you back to roaring pre-war Berlin, a city saturated with cabaret and absinth where the good times never seemed to stop. His infectious mix of classics, original material, and pop music covers achieves the rare state of making music for our era while preserving the authenticity of its vintage roots. And the grown-up me can’t wait to see it live for the first time. Welcome to the cabaret – it’s going to be a wild night!

Max Raabe shows off his cabaret glam in his rendition of Beir Mir Bist du Schoen.

Max Raabe’s latest single, One Cannot Kiss Alone. (Click image to watch.)

Looking for more Max Raabe fun-facts? Check out this article by Franziska Schwarz for the Goethe Institute.

— Growing up in Germany and Los Angeles, Tobias Wacker  is obsessed with making cities more livable through small shops and culture. He deeply believes in the power of innovation and just started, a website dedicated to modern goods made using traditional techniques and materials.