​Knapsack / Fire In The Radio Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, May 16

​Knapsack / Fire In The Radio Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, May 16
Photo: Rick Clifford
Since their reformation in 2013, revered '90s emo quartet Knapsack have been playing small sets of shows, and until tonight (May 16) had yet to set foot in Toronto officially.
Philadelphia natives Fire In The Radio opened the show with their upbeat brand of indie rock. Playing a set of 13 songs that draw heavily in style and delivery from '90s acts like Superchunk and Jawbreaker, the four-piece managed to find a balance between raging punk outbursts and moments of subtlety. Tracks from their recently released LP, Telemetry, such as "Steve McQueen" and their closer "Luna, I'll Be Home Soon," stood out particularly in their set as the highlights of the respective ends of their spectrum of sound. Although their stage presence was relatively static and their banter was minimal, they managed to keep the crowd engaged and were tight as a unit throughout their performance.
The crowd greeted Knapsack's long-awaited performance with fervour as the band stormed the stage and immediately exploded into "Thursday Side Of The Street," from their 1997 sophomore LP Day Three of My New Life. If there was any indicator that the years have not slowed Knapsack down whatsoever, it was their stage presence. Whipping their guitars about, the four-piece refused to hold still even during softer parts of songs, constantly maintaining an engaging visual performance.
The show was mixed perfectly, and sound pristine; during slower, more nuanced moments, Blair Shehan's mellow croon was perfectly audible, and when transitioning into his throaty singing voice during choruses, the level was maintained amidst the crashing guitars and drums. The fretwork of Sergie Loobkoff (also of emo mainstays Samiam) was particularly impressive as he ripped through the solo of "Shape Of The Fear" and managed to pull off every lead throughout the set flawlessly.
Knapsack showcased their knack for tasteful minimalism as well as their overwhelming power and grit with their setlist. This variety was especially apparent during the shift from "Cellophane" to "Katherine The Grateful" to "Please Shut Off The Lights," which found the band ebbing and flowing between stop-and-start rhythms, driving choruses and floating clean leads, all of which were perfectly timed, making for tight, seamless transitions. The ferocity with which the unit approached punchier sections in their songs was almost startling, given the more humble, delicate sounds of their recordings. The band's overall live sound was much more filled out, and the guitar tones were heavier and crunchier, adding to the effect.
The crowd erupted with cheers and chants of "we want sack" following the band's departure from stage, and the band returned to play a two song encore. The eager audience joined in, singing throughout the very intimate and stripped down "Cold Enough To Break" and exploded one last time for the hyperactive, angst-fuelled "Decorate The Spine."