After slow start, Venegas delights

Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas performs at the Wonderland Ballroom on Saturday night. Mexican pop star Julieta Venegas performs at the Wonderland Ballroom on Saturday night. (Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / February 28, 2011

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REVERE – Julieta Venegas made her Boston debut at the Roxy almost three years ago, which felt overdue for an artist who had become one of Latin pop’s most promising stars nearly a decade prior. It was momentous on several fronts, from the audience’s delight to finally see her to Venegas’s performance that fed off the mutual excitement.

The Mexican singer-songwriter returned on Saturday night, to a packed house at Wonderland Ballroom, but something was missing, namely the electricity that made her first Boston show so memorable. The set list hadn’t changed much, with an emphasis on songs from last year’s overlooked “Otra Cosa,’’ but Venegas often seemed distracted, at least early on.

Taking the stage to little fanfare, she got right down to business with “Amores Platónicos,’’ a new song that was rushed by Venegas’s workmanlike efficiency. Her demeanor was a little stern, which was notable only because Venegas usually comes across as charismatic, as captured on her “MTV Unplugged’’ DVD and live album from 2008. As in her songs, charm goes a long way with Venegas.

Of course, she might have just been reacting to the thin sound mix, which rendered several songs flat and, occasionally, hard to hear.

Venegas’s spirits brightened considerably as the evening wore on, especially on her biggest hits, bolstered by roaring sing-alongs of “Me Voy,’’ “Eres Para Mí,’’ and “El Presente.’’ Her six-piece band knew when to hold back and when to ramp up, coloring the sound with buoyant flourishes — a blast of trumpet on “Limón y Sal,’’ Venegas on ukulele for “Duda,’’ another new song. Heavy percussion rattled “Eterno’’ out of the shadows, but “Amores Perros’’ got lost in the din of crowd chatter.

When Venegas strapped on her accordion, a quirky distinction that initially set her apart from her fellow Mexican pop stars, she squeezed out muscular melodies, particularly on “Sería Feliz’’ and “Sin Documentos.’’ She was at her peak when she was at her quietest, offering a stark piano rendition of “Lento’’ that underscored the song’s yearning.

By the time she finished with “Andar Conmigo,’’ Venegas had warmed up to both her songs and the audience, grasping outstretched hands and flashing those familiar smiles that were as refreshing as her music.

James Reed can be reached

JULIETA VENEGAS At: Wonderland Ballroom, Revere, Saturday