For the last decade, Rodrigo Amarante performed to crowded, noisy and - above all - very faithful audiences in Brazil as a singer in the band Los Hermanos.

Nowadays, he doesn't have passionate fans who scream his lyrics as if they were their own. As Little Joy's lead singer, he needs to win the crowd anew at every gig - such as tonight, when the band will turn on their own amps and mikes at the Khyber.

And he is having a blast with all this trouble.

"It's been terrific. Since this is our second tour in the U.S., there are more people in the shows, and some of them already know the songs," Amarante said on the telephone from the road to Houston.

"It's a different feeling to get up on the stage without having the audience won."

Little Joy started when Amarante met Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti during a music festival in Portugal. Chatting throughout the night, they became friends.

When Amarante came to the United States to record with Devendra Banhart, he and Moretti met again. The friendship evolved to include Los Angeles musician Binki Shapiro. Living together in a house in L.A., they formed Little Joy - named after a nearby cocktail lounge.

Far from either the Strokes' garage rock or the melancholy mix of alt-rock and Brazilian pop of Los Hermanos, Little Joy's only album, released in November, is one of sunny atmosphere. Moretti plays tenor guitar, Amarante ukulele, and Shapiro a glockenspiel on pop songs with bossa nova touches.

In a poster at a San Francisco gig last month, local promoters labeled the band as "California Bossanova," which surprised Amarante.

"It makes sense, though. Our music has much to do with Rio de Janeiro, and it was created in California." Moretti was born in Rio to a Brazilian mother and an Italian father who moved to New York when he was 4.

The lightness and tenderness of Little Joy tunes such as "Brand New Start" - a '60s-like statement about how love can be worthwhile - have much to do with where and how they were created, Amarante said. He and Moretti were basically relaxing after 10 years of intense showbiz life with their bands.

"It was our vacation. We weren't working, we were having fun," he said.

Now on the road, they have to work hard. Recording the next Strokes album in New York, Moretti is not touring with Little Joy. In his place is Jack Dishel from Only Son on guitar and backing vocals. It's up to Amarante and the soft-voiced Shapiro to lead the band, which includes Todd Dahlhoff (bass) and Matt Borg (guitar) from the Dead Trees and Matt Romano (drums) from Albert Hammond Jr.'s band.

Amarante never liked the idea of touring without Moretti. But eventually he and Shapiro decided it was necessary to "keep the band alive." Moretti can drop by if he has a chance, Amarante points out.

Meanwhile, Amarante enjoys a routine different from what he was used to in Los Hermanos tours. Instead of having a producer dealing with plane tickets and hotel reservations, and a crew working on the stage equipment, Amarante and the band do it themselves, touring together in a van throughout the United States, covering 16 cities from Los Angeles to Boston.

Carrying amps, plugging in all the equipment, playing in alternative venues - the absence of luxury doesn't bother him at all. "I really like it. Everybody has to look out for each other, to know how many instruments we've got, which cable is plugged in which amplifier," he said. "This is getting us really close, like a team. It's a fantastic experience."

Little Joy plays tonight at the Khyber, 52 S. Second St., 215-238-5888, Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10.

Listen to Little Joy's songs and watch the videos of "The Next Time Around" (directed by Rodrigo Amarante's sister, Marcela) and "No One's Better Sake" (by Warren Fu):