9 Wallis, Beverly, MA
May 10, 2019
It’s a shame I live and work in parts of the Boston area that make travel to Beverly for an evening at 9 Wallis an annoyingly difficult journey. Since shortly after it opened in April 2017, I’ve wanted to get out to this intimate concert venue/”listening room” on Boston’s North Shore. Top-notch national, regional, and the very best local acts perform there, including a lot of incredible blues artists, though far from exclusively, as personal favorite performers from many genres regularly dot 9 Wallis’ concert calendar.
One of those rock/blues acts, of course is New York-based internationally-touring Popa Chubby. The dude’s a tour de force whose personality and talent fill the room, his shows a guaranteed good time, assuming you’re able to enjoy the blues. But I knew that before attending. Not from owning any of his recordings – though that would be a great idea – but rather from conversations with those who know and then, of course, listening to some Popa Chubby online. I had unsuccessfully attempted to squeeze a previous Popa Chubby 9 Wallis performance into my calendar, so when I saw this gig announcement, I circled the date on my calendar (figuratively speaking, of course, online) and avoided any scheduling conflicts.
On this particular night, the room was filled, and the joint was hoppin’. Popa Chubby’s vocal and performance style ranges from pure blues to rockin’ blues to rappin’ blues and beyond. Many of the songs this evening could be found on the Prime Cuts album, I believe (since it’s not in my notes, but even all these months later I recall Popa mentioning it frequently during the show), the most recent release of a long, nearly three decade career spanning dozens of albums, and a great intro to the broad range and exceptionally soulful, all-in blues style you can expect from Popa Chubby. At this 9 Wallis gig, and I get the sense this is typical based on others in the room who had been to prior Popa Chubby shows, every song was a blues jam, supported by Dave Keyes‘ talented keys with a very organ-like sound and a solid rhythm section.
Following are some highlights from the evening, as I jotted down notes whenever a song inspired me. And, truth be told, I was often so caught up in the show I didn’t think to take notes until I couldn’t remember the song titles anymore, so consider these some of the many highlights.
Popa Chubby opened the night with a rollicking rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” featuring shredding axework, showing off the keyboardist’s skills, and absolutely great guitarwork and vocal growl.
Emotional favorite “Grown Man Crying Blues” – check out Popa Chubby’s performance of the song in this video on YouTube with nearly half a million hits – featured a shredding, wailing, and practically crying performance.
Popa Chubby original “Angel on My Shoulder” charged forward as a straight-ahead rocker with a blues strut, delivered emphatically and, of course, sporting guitar and keys jams.
Popa Chubby’s delivery of “Hey Joe” was soulful, psychedelic, progressive, and classic. “69 Dollars” kicked off with a weeping guitar opening and some edge and liquidity throughout.
Finally, in the anything-goes, full-on-enjoyment spirit of the evening, I very much dug the electric guitar-driven versions of the Godfather theme song and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Also of note, for one song during the set, the band was joined onstage by drummer Joey Pafumi of the Paul Nelson Band. And late in the set, Popa Chubby showcased his keyboardist Dave Keyes’ boogie-woogie keyboard skills. Keyes also sang vocals a little during the set, bringing a smoother blues vocal style to the songs he led vocally.
So glad I made it to this show; it was completely worth the effort, as Popa Chubby and his band gave it everything they had. And I can now confirm that 9 Wallis is, indeed, the great North Shore listening room I had heard so much about.
Popa Chubby is currently touring in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. He’ll return to the northeast United States (New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) for a month in early/mid-December before returning to Europe for a month of gigs in the UK, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Click on the “tour” page of Popa Chubby’s website to see when he’ll next be performing near you. If you have a pulse, you’ll have a great time and be treated to some world-class blues-based musicianship and showmanship.