By Matthew Miller

Guitarist Gary Pihl has been playing with Boston for 16 years, and he hasn't gotten tired of "More Than a Feeling."

"With any song, (you say) how long can you play this song and still want to play it," he said in a recent phone interview, "but every time we play it people respond to it.

"If I had to play the song every day alone in my basement, I'd get tired of it," he went on, "but you see people singing along, holding up the lighters it's touching. They're singing along because it means something. They've got memories. It's like, this is the emotion, and they're reliving it."

And Boston helps them relive it, even though most of the current members weren't there for band's glory days themselves.

It's something you might call the Washington's Axe Effect, in reference to the axe in the old schoolroom story. The axe, the story goes, had its handle replaced, then its head, until no part of it was original anymore. But it sat in a museum where Washington's axe was supposed to sit, so people treated it like the genuine article.

If Boston never became a symbolic place-holder for another band called Boston, it's because the band was always mostly a child of one man's vision and because that man, guitarist and studio wizard Tom Scholz, has been there all along.

It was Scholz who spent years in his basement studio tinkering with the songs from the first album. It was Scholz who pioneered the arena rock sound, combining anthemic, melodically layered hard rock with slick production techniques. It was Scholz whose perfectionism --and his other career as an inventor, and his charity work --lead the band to record only five albums in 27 years.

Corporate America, released last year, is the latest, and it's undeniably Boston. The epic arena-rock sound is still pretty much intact. The production is polished. Scholz's guitar leads have the same calculated soar they did in the '70s.

It's not what you might call classic Boston, though. In part, that's a bad thing, insofar as Scholz's style of arena rock isn't entirely fresh 20 odd years after.

In part, though, it's just a different thing. Scholz has trod down a few new paths, to mixed success. He's also allowed members of the band's latest incarnation --which includes Pihl, original lead singer Brad Delp, who left the band in 1989 but rejoined in 1994; singer Fran Cosmo, who replaced Delp on 1994's Walk On; guitarist Anthony Cosmo, who is Fran Cosmo's son; and bassist Kimberly Dahme --to make their mark on the music.

It's made for an album that's more varied than some of the band's earlier releases. There are a couple of songs, penned by Anthony Cosmo, that have a modern rock vibe to them, and "With You," penned by Dahme, sounds like understated pop country.

Given Boston's current place in the pop rock universe, given that their cultural cache comes more from past work than from recent material, it's something of a brave move.

At least, Pihl, a former guitarist for Sammy Hagar, seems to think so.

"I'm glad to say that Tom didn't just want to make the first record over and over again," he said in a recent phone interview. "I've seen bands try to do that. He's always evolving and changing."

And he's letting the other members of the band drive some of that evolution.

"If you look at the credits (on Corporate America), Anthony and Kim have songwriting credits, and, when we're working on songs, he's very open to new ideas. It makes it a pleasure to work with the guy."

Somewhere along the line, any incarnation of Boston is going to have face up to the band's legacy. They're going to have to play "Don't Look Back." They'll have to play "Peace of Mind." But Pihl said the band's history hasn't been a burden. If Boston were the sort of band that toured every summer, if they were the sort of band that just showed up to trot out their old hits and collect a paycheck, it would be different.

The fact that the band is still making new music, still moving forward, "puts it in a different category," he said.

"We certainly want to play the old songs," he said, "but it's a great thing to play new songs and see people respond to them for the first time. It reminds me of the old days playing clubs. You write a new song, and you can't wait for Friday night to go out and play it."