“I will never go back / To who I was before / Living in darkness / Never feeling sure / And only from a distance / Could I set myself free / Now you’re nothing but a ghost just / Living in a memory” (“Cold Fire”).
Returning from our Canadian winter-getaway to Toronto for the last weekend of February, upon turning the calendar over, we saw that the first Saturday in March was circled with a bold Sharpie. That’s right, another evening of live music was around the corner, and this time around, was much closer to home. Making our way to “Stage on Herr” in Harrisburg, PA – our state capitol, and only a short hour’s drive away – we were raring to enjoy some live music from Winnipeg, MB singer-songwriter Begonia (Alexa Dirks), touring both Canada and the US to promote her freshly released “Powder Blue” album.
Performing a solid one-hour set of music with her touring band – Graeme Leaver (keyboards), John Mark Barron (bass/vocals), and Michael Jordan (drums/vocals) – Begonia shared eight tracks from the new album, along with four from her 2019 Polaris Short Prize and JUNO Award nominated “Fear” album. Closing the show prior to a ‘mock encore,’ Begonia would also treat us to “I Could Spend a Lifetime,” her 2020 collaborative single with deadmen and E.GG.
Opening with “Right Here,” itself the first teaser of new music when shared as a single back in November, Alexa quickly demonstrated her commanding stage presence and vocal prowess, earning the attention of the room before hitting her first chorus. Progressing immediately into an older (and judging from the crowd response, a very popular) tune, “Hanging on a Line,” the pop-soul sounds cut through the air like a knife into butter. “Sink while swimming / Keep your head up high / Sometimes winning / Never holding tight / You and I / You and I.” The momentum kept going with a nice shift into “The Light,” her popular 2018 radio hit – a personal favorite of mine, and a pleasure to enjoy in this live setting.
Prior to sharing “Married by Elvis,” the first single release for 2023, Begonia was happy to discuss the inspiration for this smooth pop tune. “I put out a new record like a week ago called Powder Blue and this song is on it,” she shared, interrupted by a cry of ‘I love you’ from the back of the room. “I love you too, thank you, I appreciate that you’re interested,” was her perfect off-the-cuff retort, before continuing her story. “It’s not about marriage or Elvis in my mind, because, (a) I’m not married and don’t really care about marriage, and (b) don’t really care about Elvis, sorry. But it’s more about love, I guess. About tenderness. About the absurdity of love and how it makes you do silly things.”
With a minimum of pause following the close of “Married by Elvis,” the band transitioned seamlessly into “Marigold,” another new album cut, and complete with an up-tempo, synth-powered R&B beat. Pay attention though, as this one clocks in at under two minutes in length. “Sitting in the bleachers / Waiting for my time / Crushes on all the student teachers / Searching for that perfect line / I always wanted just to fit in but couldn’t sit in / The role of what a woman should be / And when the girls came around in jerseys / Hard to play down I was weak in the knees.”
Sharing tales throughout the evening, including her religious upbringing, and attending a ballet class wearing ‘Tasmanian Devil’ boxer shorts at a young age, it would be Begonia’s tale behind (and performance of) “Butterfly,” a moving piano ballad from the new album that deserves recognition. “I wrote a lot of new songs for this album during what we’ll call the pandemic lockdowns. I don’t love to talk about it, but there it is, it happened, it’s real,” she shared. “And I feel like I dealt with a lot of cool little demon friends … they were like, ‘whoa, remember when you started to write when you were like 19, and you never dealt with the fact that all of your life changed?’ And that’s kind of where I am now, so this song called Butterfly, for the longest time I kind of had a lot of anger in me and resentment, where I felt I was mad at someone. But then when I was sitting on my porch thinking about life, there’s probably somebody that’s mad at me, that needs an apology from me. So, this song is just about those feeling, no great conclusions here, just live life, be curious, and try to find joy where you can.”
- Right Here
- Hanging On A Line
- The Light
- Married By Elvis
- Cold Fire
- Cold Night
- I Could Spend A Lifetime
- Bleeding Heart