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Review: The Woods - Sellwood's classy new venue.

Friday 25th June marked the shiveringly exciting opening of Portland’s newest music venue - The Woods - which aims to “treat musicians well” and “become the place to play in Portland”, Vivien Lyon (one of the three behind the project - Ritchie Young is another) told me the music will lean towards the acoustic and melodic, in keeping with the setting (and no doubt, the local decibel restrictions).

The former funeral parlour in Sellwood, replete with stylish architecture, embalming rooms, coffin lifts - all things funereal, has been transformed into a wonderful venue. Elegance, intimacy and surprise await in a venue where many the women, at least, dress up fashionably to befit the tasteful surroundings. Eschewing the obvious (there’s no gimmicky gothic theme) the renovation of the classic Mission-style building understates the theme, creating an discreet atmosphere in the chapel area for main performances, and leaving guests to stumble upon several smaller lounges and outdoor areas.

There’s also a basement… this was where the embalming and cold storage of bodies took place. It’s been spotlessly cleaned up but left bare at this point, and it was here, in the most unforgiving situation, that Brooklyn’s Brittain Ashford opened the evening in remarkable fashion.

With minimal accompaniment and no amplification, in a candlelit room so intimate you could hear her intake of oxygen, Ashford’s voice lifted into the darkness like fresh air, sending vibrations of new life through the dark space. Her voice is tender, but also strong and determined… the threatened vulnerability was serenely vanquished.

After that hair-raising start it was back upstairs to the main chapel for local heroes Loch Lomond, Scott Magee (pic left) standing out in another un-amped set before slipping outside for to assist on drums and clarinet in a particularly jaunty and enjoyable set by  the Nick Jaina Band (below right and they can be caught again with Brittain Ashford at Mississippi studios 3rd July).

Weinland were the first to test out the venue ‘amped-up’ with a very strong set. It was all very genuine & relaxed, lead man Adam Shearer remarking “it’s the first time I’ve played guitar with a wedding ring”. Sound in old buildings is often messy, with lots of surface deflection and dissonance, but apart from a mystery loss of the very top-end the sound here was managed expertly by Jason Powers - even through the subsequent challenge of the spectacular Portland Cello Project - it remained balanced front to back.

The night wasn’t done there either, as a slightly manic Michael Jackson dance-off suddenly broke out. What had begun with Ashford’s sounds rising like phantom birds to resolve the flights of those passed on, finished with an impromptu, high-spirited homage to a soul just passed away. A juxtaposition that rather fitted the occasion.

The Woods is open all week with other eclectic entertainment, food and drinks. 6637 Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97212

Left: The first historic beverage purchase (Vivien Lyon in background - right).

Copyright: Zaph Mann 2009.  Reproduction with attribution is fine. Original publisher: 2009


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