By Steve Morse
Boston Globe

MANSFIELD -- The band Boston will always have a soft spot in local hearts. The group's self-titled debut album in 1976 sold 14 million copies, a record for a first album until Guns N' Roses came along. Boston also used to do three-night stands at Boston Garden and once did a nine-night run at the Worcester Centrum. And what other local band ever made its New York City debut by leap-frogging the clubs and going straight to Madison Square Garden?

Boston isn't prolific (the group has released just five albums in 27 years) and has never been viewed as better in concert than in the studio. But it was impossible to deny the fun of Boston's homecoming show at the Tweeter Center on Friday. Thanks to classic-rock stations, especially the local WZLX-FM (100.7), Boston is still a viable entity in the marketplace. It drew 9,500 fans -- an increase from the 7,300 that caught the last Tweeter Center gig in 1997.

The fun started early and lasted late, as Boston played for 2 1/2 hours. The group still had mainstays Tom Scholz on guitar and Brad Delp on vocals, as well as longtime members Fran Cosmo (vocals, guitar) and former Sammy Hagar Band guitarist Gary Pihl (an underrated talent). But new members also added their punch, including guitarist Anthony Cosmo (Fran's son) and bassist Kimberley Dahme, whose enthusiasm was infectious.

The new faces have reinvigorated the band, even if the new material on the latest album, "Corporate America," doesn't always show it. But give Scholz credit for turning Boston into a more concert-friendly, family-style revue, rather than the arena-rock machine of old.

Scholz still got to play his anti-rock-star role (he wore a Boston road crew T-shirt, baggy shorts, and sneakers onstage) and still did his hammy, Bela Lugosi-like Dracula act on pipe organ (during a "Walk On" medley). Otherwise, he stuck to classic riffs on guitar and wisely left the limelight to Delp (whose high tenor voice remains a marvel), Fran Cosmo, and Dahme, whose country song "With You," was a nice change.

Boston did seven of the eight tracks from its debut disc, among them enduring hits "Rock and Roll Band" and "More Than a Feeling." But it was the ballads that often connected the best (Delp mesmerized on "Amanda" and "Hollyann"), and that helped give this show a welcome personal touch.

And when Delp jumped into the crowd at the end and slapped every palm in sight, it was clear that the band's local bonds run deep.

At: Tweeter Center, Friday