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Box Populi

Stuart Brinin Photography

Anything but Square: Box Set in a typically collegial pose

Box Set revisits the bliss and love era

By Nicky Baxter

DURING THE 1970s, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were, along with the Dead and the Allman Brothers, all the rage. Even when bifurcated into pairs--e.g., Young-Stills and, more significantly, Crosby-Nash--the music was magic. Those airborne, intricately twined harmonies, accompanied by acoustic guitars, kept alive not just the sound but also the spirit of the preceding decade, when bliss and love reigned--or so it seemed. Even on off nights, CSN&Y shows exuded that "vibe," that peaceful easy feeling few other artists were capable of generating. Amid today's horde of neo-electro-coustic strummers and singers lock-stepping backward, no one has recaptured that sound and, on occasion, that ephemeral vibe better than Box Set.

What makes Box Set a kick to see and hear is the fact that the group's obvious debt to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young notwithstanding, it is in the process of forging an identity of its very own. Although there are five members--vocalist/acoustic picker Jeff Pehrson; vocalist, guitarist (acoustic as well as electric) and trumpeter Jim Brunberg; drummer Mark Abbott; keyboardist Sam Johnston; bassist Chad Heise--this is clearly Pehrson and Brunberg's band. The two do all of the songwriting, though, interestingly, not together; on Box Set's quasiconceptual Twenty-Seven (Their Own Records), released last year, each comes up with words and music separately. Nonetheless, Box Set meshes seamlessly because the two frontmen do.

Twenty-Seven's hooky posthippie songs are driven by Pehrson's rhythmic chordal work and pinched, plaintive vocals shadowed by Brunberg's--and vice-versa. Still, this is not to suggest that the rest of Box Set's lineup is rounded out by punch-the-clock studio hacks. Anderson's keyboards, particularly his plush B-3 Hammond grinding, anchored by Abbott's no-frills kitwork and Heise's stolid bass, flesh out the evolving vision of the quintet's leading men. Make no mistake about it, far from being square, Box Set is getting phatter by the moment.

Box Set plays Friday at Q Cafe Billiards, 529 Alma St., Palo Alto. Call for time and ticket information. (415/322-3211)

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From the May 23-29, 1996 issue of Metro

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