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Brown Bag Lunch - By - May 17, 1995 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Brown Bag Lunch

“Everyone loves the mysterious, maybe slightly drugged, sexually ambiguous rock star. Well, I'm all of those things,” sardonically declares Blair Shehan, the 22-year-old vocalist/guitarist of Knapsack. The Davis four — Shehan, drummer Colby Mancasola, bassist Rod Meyer and guitarist Jason Bokros — are quite the opposite of the archetypally iconoclastic indie-rock bunch: These guys are true collegiates. Knapsack is the kind of band that hangs out at the local coffeehouse, jams in the basement during sweaty house parties and makes weekly guest appearances on campus radio stations.

Silver Sweepstakes, Knapsack's Alias debut, is an audacious entry into the world of college rock. Emotionally charged, infallible punk constructs coalesce with hard-edged melodies to create a sound that's as compelling as it is approachable. The

formula may ring a bell, but Knapsack avoids commonplace pop-punk absurdities by remaining tight, driven and defined. There's no frothing at the edges or buying into the derivative lo-fi sounds, apathetic attitudes and cute bubble-gum catchiness that have homogenized a once innovative genre — and turned it into a commercial springboard. Even Knapsack's first review — a sour dis in Maximum Rock 'N Roll — didn't overshadow the almost immediate buzz on the band. Without a single live show under their belts, the foursome were fighting off major labels.

With its nod to punk, Knapsack is often compared to labelmates Archers of Loaf and other guitar-driven outfits like Superchunk and Treepeople. “We share similarities because we play loud rock that's been influenced by the '80s radio we grew up on,” Shehan concedes. Stripped of its rock garb, Shehan's crooning on songs like “Effortless” and “Casanova” could be mistaken for a vocal track from an early modern-rock tune. Think Brian Ferry.

“It's what comes out when that's where you've been — and where everybody's been — unless you purposefully set out to be different,” Shehan claims. “But everybody has their own slant. I'll know people that are in bands, maybe just a few years older than me, and they'll have a different take on it because they were aware of music and things at an earlier age. We have different reference points.”

The youthful anthems adorning Silver Sweepstakes take you back to an innocent place in time where friends simmered

memories of the summer just past and the prospects of the fall to come. Perhaps it's the unadulterated honesty of Shehan's verbal snapshots or the band's understated challenge to traditional indie-rock lethargy that shape the album into the soundtrack to the sincere and reflective times of a twentysomething's life. “Take a second, think of everything you've done/ Getting warmer while your former blocks out the sun/ Standing close to the ground a lucky charm he found to wish this away/ Pressing deep in his palm some kind of gun to make things seem OK,” Shehan sings.

“The biggest struggle is to try and make the music worth somebody's time,” Shehan says. “It's more than just saying, 'I'm fucked up!' all the time.”

Knapsack plays an SF02 showcase Thurs, May 18, at the Chameleon in S.F.; call 821-1891.