The Deep, Bright Woods
Photos by Leah Verwey
A new beacon of culture in the sleepy land I like to call "SoPo" (South of Powell) turned on its filaments for the first time Friday night, at the "Prelude" party for new nightclub The Woods, located on main drag Milwaukee Ave in the Sellwood/Moreland neighborhood. It's not every club that opens with its owners (one of whom is Loch Lomond's Richie Young) inviting you to check out features like "the embalming room" and "the crematorium," but not every club occupies a space only recently vacated by a funeral home. So, with a little frisson
of that Six Feet Under
vibe, a hundred or so souls took in some music, drink, and scrumptious hors d'oeuvres (by Morgan Ennis of PDX Salon), and mingled with the souls still lingering in the atmosphere.
The evening's entertainment kicked off in the aforementioned embalming room, with a really charming set by visiting Brooklynite Brittain Ashford, a singer for whose voice I can think of no better word than "mellifluous" (and trust me, I have never used that word in a review before, and wouldn't if I didn't have to). In five short songs, she and her duet partner Theo Craig juggled enough instruments to fill a circus' center ring—Ashford on mandolin (or was it ukelele? It was dark in that embalming room!), dulcimer, autoharp, and Marxophone, Craig on melodica, bass, and a couple other things I can't recall right now. Her songs were sweet and winsome, with mostly plain-spoken but evocative lyrics.
The embalming room had atmosphere, for sure—credit the low celings, low light, and "pardon our" dust as much as, well, the fact that it was a freakin' embalming room
)—but will probably prove more viable as a kind of chill-out room than a venue—footsteps on the floor above were audible during her set, not to mention the dance music someone started playing upstairs during her last song. Still, an auspicious kickoff to the new club.
Next came a set by de-facto "house band" Loch Lomond, relocated at the last minute from the tiny Flower Room to an unamplified (but for bass) performance in the middle of the main room, a.k.a. the Chapel. A short-but sweet set suffered just a bit from the less-than-ideal acoustics of the room, two walls of which aren't walls so much as open spaces with columns, looking out into corridors. Weinland's later set confirmed that even when amplified, the sound's gonna need a little tweaking to really make the venue shine.
Between those two Chapel performances was the undeniable highlight of the evening, which took place on the spacious patio of the club—adjacent to a structure resembling a particularly cavernous carport, which Nick Jaina promptly informed us was the former crematorium, elaborating on how [I paraphrase] "they burned the bodies of people in there, and the ashes came out of the roof, and mixed all these little bits of people in the air, and the air traveled all around the world and people breathed those little bits of other people into their lungs, and... that's the way the world works." In a set hilarious and macabre enough to follow such an invocation, Portland was treated to the "busking version" of the Nick Jaina Band. Readers of Jaina's tour diary on LocalCut might recall mentions of the group's street performances, but this was a rare opportunity to watch the sextet perform an impressive balancing act, pitched equally between cool and hammy as hell. Actually, to be more specific, of the three-man front line, it's clarinetist Scott Magee (also Loch Lomond's drummer/multi-instrumentalist) who straddles the two states, while Nathan Langston on the fiddle leaps shamelessly over the ham line, and Jaina himself retains his usual urbane detachment.
The closing set by the Portland Cello Project began with the redoubtable Dave Depper stepping to the mic to essay the newly-late Michael Jackson's shlocky-but-sweet "Man in the Mirror," a performance hastily contrived based on events which (mercifully) replaced a scheduled Justin Timberlake number. With all-but-inaudible support from the Flash Choir, and undeniably audible contributions from vocalist Tahoe Jackson among others, the song was received in the spirit it was offered by an audience brought to its feet by Depper's preliminary urging, "If Michael Jackson ever meant anything to you, stand up!" Then all took seats back on the floor for the quiet remainder of PCP's set.
But we weren't out of The Woods yet—because after that, there was no sitting down, as a brief but boisterous dance party erupted with choice cuts from (what else) Thriller
and Off the Wall
, with Magee serving as DJ (if it's off an iPod, is it "i-J"?) closing with a very sweet spin of "I'll Be There." The club's grand opening will take place in about a month's time, and the first act scheduled thus far (by experienced booker Caroline Buchwalter) is Mr. Nick Jaina himself, on the first of August.
Photos by Leah Verwey