This Minneapolis-based vocal quartet kicked off its performing career in Fargo-Moorhead. It quickly made a name for itself with smooth a cappella harmonies and live shows peppered with witty off-the-cuff banter. They recorded a CD with their takes on Christmas carols.

No, not the Blenders, actually, though the members of Marcoux Corner are understandably used to the analogy - and don't mind it at all.

But it's been a decade since the foursome started singing together as students at Concordia College, and they're poised to step out of the shadow of their famed predecessors. At a show on the North Dakota State University campus tonight, the band introduces new member and fellow Concordia grad David Phelps and lays on an a cappella sound all its own.

Here are a few things that set them apart:

- They say they have it easier than the Blenders, thanks to the Blenders: The Blenders' success primed audiences in the region for more laid-back a cappella fare, says Marcoux Corner singer Kevin Taylor - just in time for his band to step on the stage. But the Blenders also primed band members for their career of choice.

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"We all had Blenders CDs when we were kids," Taylor says about band members, now in their late 20s. "We used to go to their shows all the time."

Not long after joining vocal forces, band members opened for their musical heroes at Fargo's Olivet Church. "I was very impressed," says Blender Tim Kasper. "They were definitely the best group I had heard in the Midwest."

Since then, Marcoux Corner has applied a few of the Blenders recipes for success to their own career: upbeat live shows with a wide appeal (they perform on college campuses and at senior centers) and a tireless touring routine (after averaging almost 200 shows for a few years, they've recently slowed down to about 120, hitting more than 30 states from Florida to Alaska).

- They have a devoted fan base in Crookston, Minn.: Marcoux Corner doesn't venture onto the a cappella Christmas show circuit, where they feel the Blenders have a major edge. Except in Crookston, that is, where they fill the city's auditorium to the brim over the holidays. The band named itself after a now-defunct neighborhood coffee shop in Moorhead, but its roots stretch to the Minnesota town of 8,000, home to the group's core members. "For some reason, they never seem to tire of us there," Taylor says.

- They performed for the president of the United States: The Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce invited the band to perform at President George W. Bush's first visit to Fargo, in 2001. The foursome sang the national anthem as the president prepared to take the stage at the NDSU's Bison Sports Arena. "We felt that was a sign to us that we were doing something people liked and we could make a career of," Taylor recalls. Another such early sign: Opening for the Beach Boys at the Red River Valley Fair.

- They've put their own twist on mellow: "When you have four guys singing, there's only so much you can do to distinguish yourself," Taylor says. Still, Marcoux Corner, which recently released its third CD, "Live!" has made a point of cultivating the relaxed, homey sound the band sported back in college. "We're a little more natural and raw," Taylor says. "The Blenders have a more polished sound."

- They're sticking to a cappella: The Blenders branched out into instrumental pop back in the early 1990s and with their most recent CD, "Songs From the Soul." Marcoux Corners members haven't been tempted to bring in instruments, though. Band member Brent Thorson occasionally plays the tambourine during live shows, and shakers make an appearance on their debut album, "Buyin' Time." But, says Taylor, "Marcoux Corner is an a cappella act. This is our niche and what we enjoy doing."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529