Updated: Apr 27
This post is written by and includes photography by Devon Thomas, a Portland, OR-born writer and film photographer based in Chicago, IL.
On the evening of Saturday, March 4th, I got to peek behind the curtain of the DIY music venue Bookclub while shooting the night's show on film. What I saw was a rare example of a venue that effectively balances indie charm and professionalism. The space is intimate, friendly, slightly disheveled, and fastidiously managed. You can see this in the small details, such as the diligent vaccine card checks at the door and the free water bottles offered throughout the venue for concertgoers to stay hydrated.
The show started on schedule, and the room was packed in time for the first performer, Fleshed Out – an alternative rock duo comprised of vocalist Chris Dunn and drummer Alek Madry. Fleshed Out kicked off the set with their insatiably-catchy single “Hunker Down," an uptempo earworm of an indie rock song.
The duo delivered a punchy, crowd-pleasing performance that quickly won over the audience and transformed the room into a dance floor. Despite being the smallest group to perform, they delivered with enormous energy, using the extra space onstage to their advantage. After their electric half-hour set, the audience was buzzing. Comedian Parker Uber (the emcee for the night) played off the audience's fervor with a sharp standup bit that kept them satiated while the following artist's band set up.
By the time the second artist, Sophia Cruz, came onstage, the crowd was wired for more. Cruz was unintimidated as she absorbed the crowd's energy and launched into an epic vocal performance. If you've had the pleasure of hearing Cruz sing live before, you know how quickly the crowd was intoxicated by her and her equally captivating band. They laid down tight, heavy grooves that goaded the crowd into hip-swaying and hollering. As I looked around, the audience appeared visibly in awe of Cruz's (and her band's) virtuosity. Her closer, "Just for Me," was a highlight of the night: bringing the set to a sultry, funky close.
After Cruz's set, I watched the audience reel from her performance. While observing the crowd, I couldn't help but notice that the show was filled with veteran concertgoers.
What gave them away was how they moved adeptly, yet respectfully, around the crowded space. The genuinely unpretentious and friendly nature of this audience was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the show's open atmosphere, further bolstered by the venue management and the performers.
After shuffling back into place, the crowd braced themselves for the night's final performance: Samuel Aaron. It was immediately apparent that Aaron took his duty as headliner seriously, as he had recruited an impressive ensemble cast – including singer-songwriter Ultra-Violet Archer on backup vocals and San Francisco-based Michail Thompson on trumpet. These additions took the outstanding live band to the next level – a fact not lost on the audience.
One of the set's highlights was Thompson's trumpet solo on the fan favorite "Anything Left." The crowd was giddy with excitement throughout the solo, which is also included in the studio version of the song. Another highlight (albeit a more dramatic one) came when guitarist Chris "Murph" Rohner rocked so hard on the rowdy tune "DB Cooper" that he broke a string mid-song. In a record-breaking turnaround, Murph had replaced the string by the start of the next song maybe a minute later, which sent the gearheads of the audience into a frenzy.
As I said – an impressive ensemble cast.
Despite the dramatic peaks of his set, what really drove Aaron's performance home was his storytelling. The audience was fully present, locked into every word of his songs, while simultaneously lost in the rawness of his and his band's performance. This connection between band and audience was a culmination of numerous factors that played out throughout the night. Fleshed Out and Sophia Cruz solidified the audience's buy-in from the show's start, and the venue's discerning management had been adamant about creating a safe space for the performers and partiers alike. The marriage of these elements made for an unforgettable show experience.
After the music ended, venue management cleared the space out efficiently, friends said goodbye, and the artists packed their equipment into their vehicles. But just like every great Saturday night, my outing came to a close at the late-night food spot across the street, where several of the show's attendees reconvened for one last hurrah over gyros, burgers, and french fries.
Altogether, the night felt like the continuation of a new chapter for the Chicago DIY scene: one in which top-tier performances and audience camaraderie are the norms.
Thank you, Bookclub! 'Till next time.
Fleshed Out: Chris Dunn (vocals), Alek Madry (drums)
Sophia Cruz: Sophia Cruz (vocals), Devin Wessels (bass), Julian Merluzzi (drums), Dylan Barnett (guitar)
Samuel Aaron: Samuel Aaron (vocals), Chris "Murph" Rohner (guitar), Taylor O'Neal (drums), Will Izdepski (bass), Ultra-Violet Archer (background vocals), Michail Thompson (trumpet)
Here is a list of upcoming Bookclub shows to look out for in the next few weeks:
3/13: Gabby Start, MGNA CRRRTA, LEASTFAVORITE
3/16: Hatecoven, Calamity, Kiminal Space
4/20: William Crooks w/ TYGO & Peter Kuli