Nadia Elkharadly: Best Live Shows of 2011 According to Moi

Happy new year my lovely DBAWIS readers!  I can hardly believe 2011 is over.  It was a pretty busy year, I have to admit, but more importantly, it was the first full year in my very fledgling music journalist career.  In that year, I’ve attended, reviewed, photographed and enjoyed TONS of live music shows, from the smallest bar venue to the biggest arenas not only here in Toronto, but in some other cities as well.  So here, in no particular order, is my list of the shows that kicked my ass (in a good way) in the first half of 2011.

1)      Big Sugar- CMW

Like every good Canadian girl growing up in the 90s, I loved Big Sugar.  Blues infused rock with rhythm you can’t help but dance to, and lyrics you can’t help but sing along to, they were definitely a musical staple throughout my high school and university life.  So when I heard they reunited earlier this year, and were playing a huge show for Canadian Music Week, I knew I had to be there.  I teamed up with fellow Toronto Examiner Tom Pandi to cover the show.  We both had media badges dangling from our lanyards with matching blue dots – photo passes.  I’d brought along the Canon Rebel DSLR I’d bought as a Boxing Day gift to myself, not really expecting to get much use out of it, as Tom was a great photographer.  We walked up to the front of the Sound Academy, and I hung back when Tom walked past the gates that blocked the photo pit from the rest of the crowd.  After all, I wasn’t a photographer, and that’s what I told Tom when he asked what I was waiting for.  “You’ve got a camera and a pass don’t you?  Get in here!” So I did.  It was my first time in the pit, and I loved it.  To be surrounded by bona fide music journalists, photographers whose work would be featured in some of the biggest publications in the city made me feel incredibly green and inexperienced, but it also gave me a taste of the future, what I hoped to one day become.  Not only was it exhilarating to be shooting pictures from so close, it was ridiculously FUN, and one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Big Sugar always puts on a kickass show, but to be right there, inches away from these amazing musicians, getting a wink and a smile from Gordie Johnson himself, that was priceless.

2)      The Sheepdogs – The Dakota Tavern

A friend of mine, a fellow musically minded individually sent me a text one cool March day, telling me I should head down to the Dakota Tavern that night, because this really cool band was playing.  What band, I asked?  The Sheepdogs, he said.  Incidentally I’d just been contacted by the band’s PR Company, so one quick email later, I confirmed that I would review their show that night.  I got to the bar a little early, so I had a few drinks (very professional of me, I know) and was munching on some of the bar’s famous roasted nuts by the kitchen.  A tall guy, dressed in country musician’s garb with shaggy hair and a shaggy beard was leaning on the china cabinet writing something down.  In my slightly inebriated state, I offered him some nuts, insisting of course, as they were delish indeed.  He politely declined (multiple times), and it was then I finally noticed what he was writing.  It was a set list, and he was Ewan Currie, lead singer of the band I was there to review.  We had a good chuckle of my warm nuts obsession, and he offered to give me his set for my review after they played.

At that point in the year, the Sheepdogs had their following, cultivated over the past couple of years, a few albums under the belts holding their vintage bellbottoms to their waists.  Just a few months later, they would win a huge competition and land on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and become a household name, but for that night, it was only me, and the die hards at the Dakota who loved nothing more than good music at a good bar.  And the Sheepdogs did not disappoint.  Four part harmonies, dizzying guitar solos and that southern feel that warmed us to the core even on a cold Toronto night, the Sheepdogs were making REAL music, and for one night I was lucky enough to be a part of that.  It was a great feeling.

3)      Mumford and Sons – Coachella Music Festival

Mumford and Sons exploded onto the music scene in late 2010 and early 2011.  The handsome lads from the UK dazzled North American fans with a wonderful Grammy performance with the legendary Bob Dylan himself.  I myself had been playing their album Sigh No More on repeat, so when I saw their name on the roster for the Coachella Music Festival that I was going to be covering, I knew I had to check them out live.  Their set was a later one, and the palm tree lined stage was lit up under a clear starry sky on a warm desert night.  The crowd was massive, everyone waiting with anticipation for the band to come on stage, and when they finally did, the applause was thunderous.  What followed was probably one of the loveliest performances I’d ever witnessed.  I say “lovely” because, in my mind, that’s the best word to describe the music of Mumford and Sons; fairy tale like lyrics sung with 5 part harmonies, simple strummy acoustic guitar, twinkly piano and the folky twang of the banjo, all set to a simple beat courtesy of Marcus Mumford’s kick drum.  It wasn’t the slight chill in the desert air that brought goosebumps to my arms and a chill up my spine:  it was the music.  Such wonderful music, played in such a beautiful setting, how could this show not rank as one of my favourites of the year?

4)      The Stanfields – Tattoo Rock Parlour, CMW

Canadian Music week was my first music festival here in Toronto.  More than that, it was the first one I’d attended as a writer.  I made it my mission to attend as many shows as I could, and a mission it truly was.  The weather was awful, it was cold, and rainy, but I bar hopped like a champ, watching band after band.  On the Thursday night, I ended up at Tattoo Rock Parlour.  I’d watched Illscarlett play an admittedly uninspiring set, but considering it was my 5th bar of the night, I wasn’t planning on moving any time soon.  The next band of the night was a mystery – there was no name in the schedule, something that happens when the fest has a hard time filling all the slots.  I figured I’d stick around, see what the band was like as I sipped a well-earned cocktail.  And when I saw a tall, handsome, scruffy faced guy in a black bowler hat setting up on stage, my decision felt more and more like the right one.  Lead singer Jon Landry was soon joined by the rest of his band, a hearty assortment of good ol’ east coast boys, and The Stanfields proceeded to blow my mind.  Some of the best live experiences happen when you have no idea what’s in store, and that’s exactly what happened that night.  Powerful guitars, gritty vocals and dark and intense lyrics combined to make great music, and a killer live show.  I just love a good surprise.

5)      Death From Above 1979 – Coachella

The reunion of Toronto Punk duo Death From Above 1979 was the talk of early 2011.  After all, a band that can maintain such an intense following on only one album released over five years ago and a scant two year life span is definitely intriguing.  The stories floating around their (literally) riotous first reunion show in Austin for South by Southwest only served to fuel curiosity and anticipation around their Coachella appearance.  I knew I’d be in attendance, not only because they rocked, and because it was all everyone was talking about in the press tent, but because I was one of the few Toronto writers there, and I had to represent my city.  I was almost put off after an incredibly lukewarm meeting with Jesse Keeler, but once I got to the stage, and surrounded myself with eager fans, the excitement became contagious.  It was still daylight and the hot sun was beating down on the tightly knit crowd, but once Sebastian Grainger greeted the crowd, tossing his newly bleached hair out of his face, everything was forgotten; everything but the music.    You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine is by all rights a fantastic album, but it’s even better live.  Keeler and Grainger rip it onstage, making everyone near them gasp and wonder “how can two guys make THAT MUCH NOISE!” To see such an electrifying performance, under the California sun in the beautiful Palm desert was something I’ll never forget.

So there you have it, my favourite live shows of the first half of 2011.  Come back next week to get the 2nd half.  It’ll be worth the wait.

Until next time,



A Reminder:
The First Annual Don’t Believe a Word I Say Reader’s Poll

Here’s the link to The Poll

To everyone who may be having a problem with copying and pasting the Poll from Monday’s column. Try this:1. Highlight the Poll 2. Right click on the Poll and choose ‘copy’. 3. Open a new word doc or email. 4. Right click and choose ‘Paste’, 5. Fill out the form and 6. Email either as a word.doc attachment, or as a straight email. The Poll is also available to copy and paste on my Facebook page Let me know if that works. If that doesn’t work, email me at, and I’ll mail the Poll directly to you to fill out. That might be the easiest way. Sorry for the inconvenience. We really are interested in hearing what you have to say. Also, your answers can include any music, movies, TV, etc, from any year, not just 2011.
Thank you,

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: Please use it to ask questions,  tell us what you’d like to read about, send links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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