Zoe November 13, the Joint.
Wrong venue? If the numbers at Zoe's November 13 concert at the Joint reached 1,000, I'd be surprised. Had the band returned to House of Blues, its second-ever Vegas show would have looked full (it certainly was when it opened for Enrique Bunbury almost exactly two years ago to the day.) A bigger crowd may have also appeared had this show taken place during Latin Grammy week, which begins on Tuesday.
That said, the group's American-based diehards enjoyed an intimate and roomy atmosphere that they wouldn't have been afforded back in Mexico, where Zoe is an arena headliner. And the arena-like production of the show certainly required a stage as enormous as the Joint's.
Britpop may be dead, but not to Zoé The Mexico-based quintet—expanded by one for its 2013 tour—isn't like other rock en Espanol bands, which try to incorporate both traditional rock and Latin musical influences. But the only thing Latin about Zoe is the Spanish language in which frontman Leon Larregui sings.
Instead, the act borrows heavily from the Britpop composition and melody structures, going back as early as the Beatles (closer "Love") and finding inspirations from acts as recent as Muse (see favorite "Nada"). The mid-1990s seem to be a favorite touchpoint, including The Bends-era Radiohead; "Arrullo de Estrellas" kicked off in the same manner as the English group's "Planet Telex," its proggy touches detected throughout the evening's setlist. Not for nothing is Zoé's new album called Programaton.
The importance of being earnest Zoé may relish the music of the 1990s, but it doesn't seem to subscribe to that decade's penchant for irony, subversion or emotional distance. It, like the majority of Latin acts, wears its heart on its sleeve, and on Wednesday, it mirrored the passion projected by its fans, the ones in attendance at the Joint included.
And with earnestness came the big gestures—not necessarily from Larregui, who prefers to pace or stand still behind his mic (save for his Pete Townsend-like windmills during "Veneno"), but in the meter-busting lighting display and instrumental exaggerations (the double percussion, the synth gusts), both teaming up for a hell of a crescendo at the end of "Luna."
Also: Most of the musicians even dressed too seriously, like they were actually playing the Latin Grammys.
They're big (in Mexico) for a reason Zoé performs with the confidence, skill and excitement of a band like Muse. Its rhythm section got both band and crowd revved up, be it during the New Wave verve of "Ultimos Dias" or the concentrated post-punk/Strokes-like charge of show highlight "No Me Destruyas." Keyboard melodies didn‚t compete with the guitars—numbering as many as three at times—and the guitars didn't indulge themselves like you might expect in prog-influenced rock. And for all his earnestness (and that of the anthems he voices), Larregui wasn't a chest-pounder or messianic; he gave just enough (though his mic levels could have been higher).
It might've been a little over the top for a Radiohead devotee or too subtle for a U2 fan, but I suspect most Anglo modern rock fans would have found Zoé's highly tuneful, big-room numbers—and their execution Wednesday night—stimulating enough to overlook the language barrier.