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Punk Rock Bowling rocking downtown for four days, nights

Last time he played Punk Rock Bowling, he was almost done in by a beef patty.

Two years back, Desecendents drummer Bill Stevenson, along with singer Milo Aukerman, accepted a challenge to eat ghost pepper-laden hamburgers prior to their headlining set on the festival’s second night.

Cue the gastrointestinal revolt.

“We both had trash cans right there by us because we were having problems with vomiting and diarrhea walking down to the show,” Stevenson recalls. “For some magical reason, right before we played, we were both able to purge ourselves. Then we got up there and had what I remember as one of our best shows ever.”

Stevenson isn’t being hyperbolic about the whole “best show ever” thing.

The vibe that night was especially frenzied, an intense give and take between the audience and the band, with the crowd acting as a conductor of the group’s electricity.

This is the atmosphere that tends to animate Punk Rock Bowling, now in its 15th year, which bull rushes downtown Vegas for four days and nights beginning Friday.

In addition to an outdoor festival stage hosting pioneering hardcore, punk and New Wave acts such as The Damned, Devo, Bad Religion and D.R.I. , younger flamethrowers Retox, Pour Habit and Tartar Control, locals The Dirty Panties and Surrounded By Thieves and dozens more, there are scads of club shows taking place at various venues (go to punkrockbowling.com for the complete lineup).

The weekend is like a family reunion for first, second and third generation punk lifers from across the country, a boozy bear hug to a sound that’s matured without growing up.

“It’s where all of us over-40 punks go to die and be put out to pasture,” Stevenson jokes.

This year, Stevenson returns to Punk Rock Bowling with Flag, which consists of former members of legendary L.A. hard cases Black Flag, whose fierce work ethic, do-it-yourself entrepreneurship and terse, sardonic, airtight jams established them as one of the most influential hardcore punk outfits ever.

For the members of Black Flag, it was less a band than a lifestyle, an identity, one as indelible as scar tissue.

Two-and-a-half decades after the group initially disbanded in 1986, a quartet of Black Flag veterans are revisiting their roots.

In addition to Stevenson, Flag includes original singer Keith Morris, bassist Chuck Dukowski and guitarist Dez Cadena, along with Stevenson’s longtime Descendants bandmate, guitarist Stephen Egerton.

Flag’s formation isn’t without controversy, as Black Flag founder and primary songwriter Greg Ginn owns the rights to the band’s name and is also touring this summer in a lineup fronted by the group’s second vocalist, Ron Reyes, who joined the band after Morris left to launch the Circle Jerks in ’79.

Flag’s set list, which draws mainly from the band’s first three EPs as well as their full-length debut, 1981’s “Damaged,” includes songs that some of them didn’t perform on originally.

For his part, Stevenson plays down any tension between the two outfits.

“Despite the common idea that there is all this turmoil within the Black Flag camp, from my vantage point, the turmoil doesn’t involve me much,” he says. “I never really had a falling out with anybody.

“Obviously there is the elephant in the room,” he says of Ginn’s Black Flag, “Other than that, we’re all best friends, and we always have been.”

Stevenson’s ties to Black Flag date back to his early teens.

He was a fan of the band long before he was asked to join the group when he was 18, a fixture at their daily rehearsals.

“I camped out on their practice space floor,” Stevenson says. “I was the annoying kid who showed up every day. After practice, I would make Greg show me the songs in slow motion on guitar.

“I feel really fortunate to have been present for that whole late ’70s L.A. punk rock thing,” he continues. “That’s really how I was able to find my personality. It was these guys — Chuck and Greg and Henry (Rollins, singer) — they were such a big influence on me, they made me a large part of who I am. My father was very conservative, and he taught me some things that I would be embarrassed to tell you. Chuck and Greg kind of undid a lot of that.”

In addition to his tenure in Black Flag, the Descendents and then All, Stevenson also established himself as a successful producer along the way, working with such big names as NOFX, Rise Against and, uh, Puddle of Mudd, building Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colo.

Revisiting Black Flag, then, is a chance to re-establish ties with some of his oldest friends. (He’s known Morris since he was 9, for instance.)

For him, Flag is a labor of love, with the emphasis on the labor.

“I do believe that we’ve put the necessary effort in to where we’re rendering proper versions of these songs,” Stevenson says. “There’s a thoroughness that’s required. That part of it is probably the thing that I feel the best about.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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