Little Joy / June 23, 2009 / New York, NY (Bowery Ballroom)

For a band that some pegged as yet another Strokes side project, Little Joy managed just fine at its Bowery Ballroom performance Tuesday night (June 23). The sold-out show marked the last stop of the L.A. trio’s American tour, which it completed without guitarist (and Strokes drummer) Fabrizio Moretti due to his current recording sessions with his original band.

Little Joy’s recorded music is reminiscent of California lounge-pop on a breezy summer evening, but the band infused its live set with an amplified energy that was perhaps more in tune with the night’s downtown indie ambience. The strum of guitarist and vocalist Rodrigo Amarante (also of Los Hermanos) was carefree as ever, and the layered sound of the musicians that rounded out the band’s onstage roster – including members of opening act The Teenage Prayers -- electrified its hourlong set.

Amarante opened Little Joy’s set solo with an acoustic version of “Evaporar,” sung in the Brazilian-born musician’s native tongue of Portuguese. Although the song’s meaning remained a mystery for most monoliginual attendees, its melancholy spirit came across clearly through Amarante voice. Those sullen vibes were quickly shoed away, though, when the singer was joined by Little Joy vocalist/keyboardist Binki Shapiro and four of the band’s touring members to play “How It’s Meant to Be.”

A spirited rendition of “How to Hang a Warhol” followed, with blares of sax and trumpet punctuating the catchy, ‘60s-pop-inspired song. Shapiro took the lead with vulnerable vocals on “Unattainable,” while the male band members’ delivered lush, Beach Boys-esque harmonization in the background.

Later, Little Joy busted into a jangly version of “No One’s Better Sake,” whose lyrics repeatedly ask, “What are we waiting for?” It seemed the audience was waiting for nothing at all, as it spiritedly joined Little Joy in sing alongs, head-bobbing and toe-tapping.

Amarante led his band into the forlorn “With Strangers,” on which he displayed his Latino roots once more with a Spanish-tinged guitar solo. The Brazilian heritage of Amarante (and Moretti) was apparent throughout Little Joy’s performance, with many songs exhibiting a bossa nova influence and a cover performance of Gilberto Gil’s “Procissao.” Joy also played a cover of The Mamas & The Papas’ “Midnight Voyage,” for which Amarante took to the keyboard and Shapiro to the microphone. The song came to a not-so-screeching halt with wall-of-sound harmonies.

Little Joy rounded out its set with “Don’t Watch Me Dancing,” which started off dreamy then escalated into a raucous rock jam, complete with maracas, brass accents and sprinklings of Shapiro’s glockenspiel.

As the band approached its final song, the friendly jam vibe continued as it was joined by Moretti and special guest Regina Spektor, for whom Little Joy opened June 17 at the Beacon Theatre. The crowd erupted in disbelief to see the petite Russian songstress, who stood wedged between the band members. But soon enough, merriment replaced surprise. Fans danced and sang along with the musical partners onstage, ending the show with a blissful bang.

Here is Little Joy’s setlist:

“Evaporar”
“How It’s Meant to Be”
“How to Hang a Warhol”
“Unattainable”
“Shoulder to Shoulder”
“No One’s Better Sake”
“Untitled” (New song)
“With Strangers”
“Midnight Voyage” (The Mamas & The Papas cover)
“Keep Me in Mind”
“Don’t Watch Me Dancing”
“Procissao” (Gilberto Gil cover)
“Brand New Start”