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No Age flops, Gay Witch and Knife World fly at the 501

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Gay Witch Abortion.

It might be July, but the summer of 2009 is proving to be a harsh economic winter for fledgling music clubs like the 501, and the club's first impression when it opened its doors weeks ago was of an opulence too great to sustain. A state of the art sound system, long wooded bars, a spacious floor, situated on prime real estate in downtown Minneapolis-- many thought it too good to be true.

No Age.

They'll be thanking their stars, then, that the Bicycle Film Festival decided to hold its launch show there-- last night, a crowd that likely exceeded capacity filled the venue from openers Knife World to hot-shot headliners No Age. It was the kind of show that can make a fledgling venue, and you can bet that the 501 will be on the lips and in the hearts of everyone who was there.

Openers Knife World, who have been making a lurching transition in their upgrade from two-piece to three-piece, at last sounded cohesive in their new format. Most astonishing about Knife World is not just their sheer musicianship (it's almost beyond arguing that Jon Neilsen is the best rock guitarist in town), but the excruciating precision with which they perform their multi-movement, spastic songs. These are the fruits of extensive rehearsal, of rote memorization, and it was their strongest argument yet for adding a bassist-- their sound, from first note to last, was full and deafening.

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Gay Witch Abortion was, not too surprisingly, the highlight of the evening. Any goodly reader of this two-bit rag should be well familiar with them by now, and though their sound is always apocalyptically loud, through the 501s virginal sound system, guitarist Jesse Bottomley's guitar sound was so corroded, so molten and crumbled, it sounded as if his amplifier were about to melt into a puddle of acid ooze any moment. That is, in case you were wondering, a good thing. Their set was a perfection, and the crowd showed it-- there was moshing and ovation, and a shedding of the austerity that faces even the most punishing live band here in fly-over land.

And then came No Age, the new look of SubPop, the Pitchfork darlings. The capacity crowd didn't make for the exit, nor was there audible grumbling. But the sea of bodies that faced the stage was so dreadfully inert, one almost felt embarrassed for the L.A. two-piece. The difference between No Age and the locals that opened for them is the most crucial inch-- No Age were every bit as loud, every bit as lo-fi, their sound every bit as energetic.

But formula makes a crude replacement for imagination, and theirs was a landlubber's sound, clinging desperately to a familiar patch of turf amid a maelstrom of sound,  lest it be swept into unfamiliar territory. They were capable musicians and, by all accounts, nice guys. But capable and nice are never enough-- the sound, in all its fury and volume, was a flat out bore.