Popa Chubby at Club Helsinki

Popa Chubby is a big guy who evokes big emotions in listeners and delivers an even bigger sound from his guitar. He may be built like a linebacker, but his fingers have the speed and grace of a running back. The man has one hearty personality, and that shines through in his playing. Not only is Papa Chubby a guitar virtuoso, but he’s a spirited musician who is equally adept at playing hard-driving blues tunes as well as mellow and surprisingly tender slow songs. Oh, and he also plays killer slide guitar.

I admire anyone who has appreciation for both Bach and Jimi Hendrix, and Popa Chubby won my heart a few songs into his set at Club Helsinki on Friday night when he played a Bach fugue and Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” one segwaying into the next. As Popa Chubby says in one of his own songs that is titled after this line, “rock and roll is my religion,” and being at his performance was not unlike a soulful sermon in spirit;  people sang their praises through shouting, everyone sat side by side surrounded by candles, and leaving the club at the shows close I felt rejuvenated in mind and body. Popa Chubby sat there as mellow as can be in stature, but from his elbows down he electrified the crowd with searing guitar solos and his strong persona. The man has got a love for his guitar that is evident, and the crowd at Club Helsinki had a love for the man who was playing it that was equally evident.

Even when the space in front of the stage filled up with dancers, flailing limbs going every direction, Popa Chubby didn’t even seem to notice. He frequently closes his eyes when he plays and appears to be in his own oasis, undisturbed by anything going on around him — a useful technique to master, especially for a traveling blues/rock musician. That said, the guy was not afraid to tell obnoxious drunks to f*ck off — politely, of course — when they bothered him, which they did. There were a few people who got completely trashed, and the staff at the club had their hands full I’m sure. One person tried to jump on stage with Popa Chubby, while another asked him to play “Candy,” a song Popa Chubby did not write and has never heard of, let alone played.

Although the focus of the show was justifiably on Popa Chubby, his band was great too and their presence did not go unnoticed. Playing with the guitarist were AJ Pappas on bass and Dan Hickey on drums. Popa Chubby also brought his wife Galea on stage for a few songs, a mean bassist in her own right who also sang in a deep, throaty, soulful voice. Popa and Galea also front a country-based band called Vicious Country, and on Friday the musicians only gained my respect even more when they played scorching versions of folk and blues classics such as “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” proving that they are much more than one-trick ponies (not that I ever thought they were). Popa Chubby’s guitar mastery is especially clear in his brilliant “Steelhorse Serenade,” an icy cool instrumental tune. The man’s playing has got attitude as well as elegance, just don’t ever tell him I said that — he’s got a badass reputation to uphold, you know.

Here are videos from the show:

I Am Your Back Door Man

Instrumental

Steelhorse Serenade

Another Ten Years Gone

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