Best of 2016: A Few Final Thoughts on Music and Art

3cr-bestof2016-22016 is over and we hope you’ve had a chance to read the Best-of-2016 posts that our writers and editors have created on each page: Stages, Screens, Music, Art, Lit, Food and Beyond. As we collected submissions from our writers, some suggestions for other Best arts & culture events didn’t fit in the regular page posts. And we didn’t want you to miss them. So here are some other artists and events that we loved in the last year.


By Chris Zois, Music Writer

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

When it was announced in March that Against Me!’s frontwoman Laura Jane Grace was going to release her memoir, I went through the roof. I’ve been a lifelong Against Me! and I was stoked I would finally be able to read the authorized history of my favorite band. When I finally bought the book and tore through it in two days my expectations were far exceeded, but I was also taken aback a bit. I considered myself a die-hard fan, tearing through punk discussion boards in high school to learn as much as I could about the band in the least stalkerish manner. But I was surprised to find out in the book the band always appeared to be on the verge of breaking up and the shit they had to take, from self-righteous punks who criticized their moves to bigger record labels. But what I love most about the book is how honest it was. Grace doesn’t hold anything back and even takes herself to task for some bratty behavior. Even if you’re not a punk rock purist, the book is an engrossing story about the perils of the rock star lifestyle, identity, drug abuse and what it means to be a punk.


The Lawrence Arms War on Christmas Shows @ Double Door

If there is one Chicago band I always recommend people listen to, it’s the Lawrence Arms. The trio manages to seamlessly blend pop hooks, complex lyrics and an overall punk rock aesthetic into their songs. They are a good introductory band I recommend for punk/pop-punk newbies. But I try to stop right there because if no one stops me, I go deep into a rabbit hole discussing their best B-sides. But I mention them because for the second year in a row, the band held their War on Christmas residency at the Double Door, which was my favorite show of the year. The band played three days at the Double Door, with each set based on a Christmas-based theme. This year it revolved around Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This year I only went to the Present show (which my liver thanked me for) and it was one of their best sets I have seen to date. While some bands may want to bog you down with all their faster-paced tracks at the beginning and end of each set, the Larry Arms created a balanced set that didn’t have me bored at all. I look forward to next year’s shows.


Nine Inch Nails EP “Not The Actual Events”

I’m putting the new NIN EP in here mainly because of Trent Reznor’s description of it: “An unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make.”


By Colin Smith, Music and Lit writer

For Music (Concert): Mild High Club @ The Empty Bottle

The Chicago expat Alex Brettin brought back his ’70s-inflected grooves to the Empty Bottle last fall with his band Mild High Club. While he’s no novice in his craft, his second full-length album Skiptracing has flown under the radar in a year of significant and impressive album releases. During one crisp fall Friday night, jazzers and rockers alike danced and drank while, well, mildly high. Though he might not take himself seriously (just look at his norm-core garb), he runs a tight ship. Mild High Club played with soul, and they nailed every single song.


For Lit (Conversation): Trevor Noah at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Just a few days after the election, the Chicago people needed hope. Trevor Noah was born in apartheid-era South Africa to a black African mother and a white father. He was “born out of rebellion.” And he also saw a demagogue rise to power. He shared his observations and experiences with race and politics at the Music Box Theatre for the Chicago Humanities Festival. He was there to talk to his editor about his memoir Born a Crime, but the election changed the tenor and course of the dialogue. Though his view comes from being an outsider to American society, he provided the insight we needed in these moments of despair.


By Bianca Bova, Art Writer

What is ones real life?, 2006; 72" × 60" mixed media and oil on canvas.
What is ones real life?, 2006; 72″ × 60″ mixed media and oil on canvas.

Phyllis Bramson, Under the Pleasure Dome. Chicago Cultural Center; June 4-August 28

A survey of works from the past 20 years of Phyllis Bramson’s career, Under the Pleasure Dome at the Chicago Cultural Center was one part retrospective, one part preview of what’s to come in Bramson’s vast and varied practice. The exhibition featured a run of recently produced sculptural installations that, by the artist’s admission, draw on the class and kitsch of department store window decorating traditions for source material, without sacrificing the aesthetic Bramson is so known for.

The show-stopping pieces, however, were the considerable number of collage works on view, done with such remarkable finesse as to produce an uncanny seamlessness between the generic iconography of the mass-produced paintings the artist cuts apart and the sometimes sinister, sometimes erotic, and readily cartoonish figures created by her own hand. A heavy dose of the feminine comes through in the details: rhinestone adornments, floral motifs, and a dose of glitter should threaten to toe the line of good taste, but as they factor into Bramson’s meticulous vision, instead lend a sense of coyness charged with desire. The result is a deceptively simple viewing experience that becomes deeply sensual the longer one looks.


Elif Geris, Music Writer

My two favorite musical experiences of 2016 were Christine and the Queens’ performance at the Vic Theatre and Caravan Palace’s performance at the House of Blues. I had four favorite concerts last year, so it was quite a challenge choosing two of the articles that most richly encapsulated my year in music. But both these bands have created songs that inspire me to vigorously move a leg or my head to their rhythms. And both bands’ live music and production involves heavy amounts of dance, projections and group participation–an entirely unique experience from listening to the recorded versions. Here are some of the messages I highlighted from Christine and the Queens’ Vic Theatre performance, along with those of Caravan Palace at the House of Blues.


Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.