Best Of 2015

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
This wasn't just the year that Ferguson burned and the national media camped out in town. For St. Louis, this was a year of provocative art and thrilling performances. Indeed, the unrest at our doorstep galvanized local artists. Read on as our staff celebrates the best in dance, theater, film, music and fine arts -- some controversial, some confrontational, but all of it worth revisiting.
Best Concert
The most critically lauded hip-hop duo of 2014 almost didn't make it to St. Louis for its scheduled November stop at the Ready Room. The bus that held Run the Jewels, a.k.a. Atlanta's Killer Mike and New York's El-P, stalled on the side of the road in the middle of Illinois on the way to the show. Compounding matters? A long-awaited announcement from St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch ended up being scheduled for that very evening. This wasn't just any politico's press conference. The date was November 24 — and the grand jury investigating the death of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was about to release its verdict. The city braced for unrest, and many shops shut their doors. The owners of the Ready Room, however, chose to stay open. Just before Run the Jewels' engine finally restarted, El-P remarked on Twitter that the performers were likely "some of the only people trying to get in to St. Louis right now." Upon arrival, Run the Jewels performed with an intensity rarely seen in any musical act. Even as Ferguson burned and tear gas filled St. Louis streets, the duo performed a stunning, emotional set that served as an outlet for a city crying out in pain. Killer Mike, who opened the show with a tearful speech about racism and police brutality, put it best: "There's an old saying in the South: 'You got to shout to get it out.' And I'm so happy to be here in St. Louis."
Owner/talent buyer Mike Cracchiolo and managing partner Laura Sisul.
The Ready Room came flying out of the gate in April of last year with an inaugural show featuring revered Georgia-based indie rockers Of Montreal — an auspicious start for any venue. The next three months saw similarly impressive bookings gracing the stage: Mates of State, the Faint, the Dandy Warhols, Hoodie Allen and Swans were among the Ready Room’s earliest shows. The 800-capacity venue owes its considerable talent-buying power to its status as a big brother of sorts to the Firebird, which has long been celebrated for its ability to draw top acts. Between the Ready Room, Music Record Shop and the Demo — three establishments located side-by-side-by-side — the 4100 block of Manchester Avenue in the Grove has quickly become one of the most vital locations for music in all of St. Louis. 4195 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, 63110. 314-833-3929,
Best Art Gallery
The Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park is a treasure trove of world-famous art, but it does more than serve as a storehouse for agreed-upon classics. Using its supplemental galleries (234 through 236, as well as 301 and 321), the museum presents the work of contemporary artists in a variety of media. This past year saw the installation of all 40 of Nicholas Nixon's The Brown Sisters photographs, an exhibit that permitted you to see the passage of time in the faces of four sisters. There was also a selection of prints created after the phantasmagorical style of Hieronymus Bosch, and a stark collection drawings and prints of the night sky by "intense realist" Vija Celmins. Mariam Ghani's Currents 110 exhibition The City showcased her film inspired by the psychogeography of St. Louis, particularly the once-populous areas of Kinloch and the riverfront. With its fictional narrative and beautifully framed shots of these now-empty spaces, Ghani showed the old St. Louis that still haunts the modern St. Louis. She gave us a new way to see our hometown in a building that simultaneously represents its past and its present. Forest Park, St. Louis, 63110. 314-721-0072,
Best Movie Theater
Forget those sprawling megaplexes. Movies are best enjoyed in a small neighborhood theater that embraces its history while looking toward the future. The Hi-­Pointe has been around since 1922, just before "talkies" went mainstream. Known as Missouri's oldest single-­screen movie house, the theater has upgraded its sound and flagship movie screen over the decades, and, this spring, added a second screen known as the Backlot. Proud of its legacy near the giant Amoco sign at Skinker and McCausland, the Hi­-Pointe also celebrates local film milestones, recently hosting fifth-anniversary festivities for Late Nite Grindhouse, a monthly midnight film series that focuses on horror and exploitation flicks. Combining such niche entertainment with traditional touches such as velvet curtains and real­ butter popcorn, the Hi-­Pointe makes what's old new again — in the best possible way. 1005 McCausland Avenue, Richmond Heights, 63117. 314-995-6273,
Best Hip-Hop Club
It does Blank Space a disservice to call it a "hip-hop club": It is so much more to so many people. Nevertheless, the Cherokee Street venue has become the St. Louis hip-hop scene's premier spot. For years Blank Space has played host to regular DJ nights — including the all-vinyl monthly event Bump & Hustle, which celebrated its three-year anniversary in July — and innumerable underground hip-hop events. St. Louis' DJ MAKossa and DJ Needles (the founders of B&H) are among the many local stalwarts who host shows here: Tef Poe, Nick Menn, the MME collective, Mathias and the Pirates, Thelonious Kryptonite and many others regularly perform. Blank Space was founded as an open-ended experiment deliberately lacking curatorial oversight — a mission that remains firmly in place — but over the years it has morphed into a venue the St. Louis underground hip-hop community can proudly call home. 2847 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, 63118. 314-300-8831,
Best Music Festival
Acid Kat Fest, which wrapped up its third year in early August, has quickly become St. Louis' go-to destination for music that's off the beaten path. Punk lives next to noise and experimental sounds, which take up residence adjacent to garage-rock offerings and even a smattering of hip-hop. The entire ecosystem is located underground, in the sludge and slime of the sewers, mutating and gestating and getting stranger every day before emerging to perform at the festival. And that's just how founder Austin Nitsua likes it. "We're all freaks and weirdos, and we all have the same ideas," he told Riverfront Times in advance of Acid Kat III. "We're all pretty much the same — we just like different forms of music."
Best All-Ages Venue
All-ages: It is a distinction that often goes unconsidered by those of us with driver's licenses that tick off the years since we turned 21. But for music lovers too young to pony up to the bar, they can be the two most important words on a show's flier. And what venue in town does "all-ages" better than Off Broadway? If you were to ask music fan Lucas Hanner, he would tell you there is none. Spotted at the space with his eleven-year-old son, Logan, at a recent performance by Chicago-based rock & rollers the Ike Reilly Assassination, Hanner heaped praise on the south-city spot. "This is the most child-friendly place in St. Louis," he said. "Most shows here are not 21-and-older. It brings me an opportunity to bring him here, but with earphones." Logan was one of several youngsters spending time with their parents at the show, proving that, if Off Broadway has anything to say about it, kids can rock just hard as as their elders. 3509 Lemp Avenue, St. Louis, 63118. 314-773-3363,
Best Jazz Club
There's no question that jazz is best experienced in person, and the newly renovated Jazz at the Bistro — now officially known as the Ferring Jazz Bistro — is still the best place in town to witness the distinctly American art form at its best. Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, the Bistro is better than ever, thanks to its recent multimillion-dollar update and expansion, as well as a calendar that's increasingly inclusive of younger and more progressive-minded acts such as Christian Scott, the Robert Glasper Experiment and the Bad Plus. As if the great lineup and sweet new digs weren't enough, the Ferring Jazz Bistro — because it's operated by the nonprofit Jazz St. Louis — is also able to offer tickets to its world-class performances at prices significantly cheaper than its peers in other cities. Add to all that a great new menu from Catering St. Louis to enjoy before the show, and it's not only the best jazz club in town, it's one of the best in the nation. 3536 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, 63103. 314-571-6000,
Macheath's gang celebrate the boss' wedding.
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera has everything you could want from a musical: a jazzy score, a diverse cast of shady characters and a ruthless compunction for wallowing in vice, sin and corruption. New Line Theatre mounted a savage production of the show that rubbed our faces in society's filth and failings, and made us enjoy it despite the horrors on display. Threepenny is a sharp, cynical work that subverts your expectations at every turn, and the New Line cast embraced this ethos thoroughly. Scenic designer Rob Lippert built a grimy nocturne for them to play in, and the cast gleefully cheated and backstabbed their way through it. Familiar tunes such as "Army Song" and "Jealousy Duet" sounded fresh and intoxicating — so fresh that Brecht's mordant lyrics were shocking all over again. Consistently surprising, eminently rewarding and endlessly fascinating, New Line's Threepenny Opera was the show that set a new standard for St. Louis musical theater.