Dog Park Decadence

The Phantom Surfers and Neil Hamburger run with the big dogs at Phoenix Greyhound Park.

Looking like a cross between Jet Li and the Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, pimped out like his bandmates in a regal purple tux and a Green Hornet-style black mask, and twisting and shaking as if Benny Hinn had just laid hands on him and filled him with the Spirit, Russell Quan blasts through a surf punk cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?" His velour jacket is wet with sweat, in part because he'd been pounding skins through the first set before stepping to the mike for the second half of this rare Phantom Surfers appearance in P-town.

Before him are hometown honeys in pink '50s-style gowns, rockabilly types in vintage shirts and thick lambchop sideburns, hot punk chicklets in too-tight black tees and strategically torn fishnet stockings. Everyone's smoking, dripping fat beads of perspiration, throwing back drinks, and convulsing like their boy Quan. That includes Jett, a.k.a. the L-word Keira Knightley, and myself, PHX's mound of renown, the Zona's own Biggie Smalls, your hardly humble, candy-coated captain of corpulence, Kreme.

From this intro, you might expect that Jett and I are kicking it at the Emerald, or some other hipster sweatbox in the Phity (short for "Phoenix city," yo). But check it, we're peepin' the Masked Ones as they play the lounge at Phoenix Greyhound Park at 38th Street and Washington! That's right, while the Phantom Surfers tear up the room, immediately behind us at the bar, mixed in with the twentysomething party peoples, are crusty gamblers chewing on cee-gars and placing their bets as they knock back John Barleycorn while watching the race results on TV screens above.

The Phantom Surfers are here as part of a benefit for the Renegade Rollergirls, a league of amateur Phoenix roller derby enthusiasts, who have a kissing booth set up outside the lounge. (French Kiss Army and Mother Truckers are but two of the teams of young women who re-create the sport locally.) Revelers have plunked down $10 to see the band and anti-comic Neil Hamburger, who opened the night for them.

The Phantom Surfers finish their concert and dive offstage, returning for an encore before they head back to the impromptu dressing room behind the lounge. Jett and I are hard on their heels. We catch the legendary Bay Area foursome in the middle of stripping down to their BVDs.

"Why are classy fellas like you playing a dog park?" I query the quartet.

"Someone asked us," smirks guitarist Mel Bergman, who with his Colonel Sanders mustache and beard looks like a young Robert Altman. "I've been doing this for a long time. There's no reason to promote ourselves as we've achieved as much as we're gonna achieve as a band. In fact, this is the pinnacle."

"So what do you think of this whole roller girl phenom, since you're playing a benefit for them?"

"My take is it's for punk rock girls, some of whom are getting on a little bit [in years]," clowns Bergman. "Kinda like a quilting bee with wheels."

"Ooooh, cold, but these ladies look pretty tough," chimes in the Jettster.

"Hey, I've had female relatives that were quilters, and they were plenty tough, too," jokes bassist Mike "the Mouth" Lucas. "In fact, I'm working on a book right now, Tough Quilters of the 19th Century."

"I guess this explains why there are no roller derby groupies back here," says Jett.

"Look at me," implores Bergman, like some lounge-lizard Job. "You think we have roller derby groupies? That would be hoping beyond hope. I'd have to jack my game way up."

"I dunno, sir, you're lookin' pretty sharp," I comment.

"Yeah, but you're not a roller derby girl," says Lucas, butting in.

"No, but I have lovely chesticles," I say, grinning. "And, of course, there's always Jett here."

"Hey, leave me out of it," my lipsticker co-pilot demands.

"Baby, it's all about you," says Bergman with a leer.

"Now that he mentions it, Jett, you are the only female back here," I point out.

"Argh, men!" cries Jett in disgust.

Jett and I exit stage left. Back in the lounge area, we run into the great Neil Hamburger, the hardest working comic in the biz, who's doing his shtick 365 days a year in pizza parlors, malls, Malaysian comedy clubs and, well, dog parks. In fact, the L.A.-based comic plays the dog park annually, this being his third or fourth time at the canine speedway. Hamburger even sells a DVD of himself in performance at the venue, titled Live at Phoenix Greyhound Park, on his Web site, http://neilhamburger.tvheaven.com.

Hamburger could out-nebbish Woody Allen in his maroon tux and big, black horn-rim specs. In his act, he's so bad he's good, a modus operandi that's earned him a cult following and the love of losers everywhere.

"So, Neil, is it all about dog tracks now?" I ask.

"No, Indian casinos," he croaks, hoarsely. "These degenerate gamblers are my biggest crowd. These are my people."

"Ever play Laughlin?" asks the Jettster.

"I wish I could get something going there," he sighs. "I've played Elko, Nevada, though, which is a lot worse than Laughlin."

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