Planet Clair 

Reality Check

When Cake held a special "top secret surprise" show at Eli's Mile High Club last Wednesday night, the club filled up pretty fast (helped along by an announcement on KALX that afternoon)

These kinds of shows are cool even if you don't like the band. It's kinda like going to a wedding of people you've never met and finding yourself a bit weepy: Intimacy is a truth that whacks you upside your nugget. Cake skates dangerously close to Grateful Dead territory for Planet Clair's tastes, but when their sweetly raucous, bachelor's-degreed listeners say "I do" to the band's harmony and horns -- and yes, even a cover of "I Will Survive" -- one can't help but feel a little moved. These unannounced concerts from "bigger" bands help rock reclaim its spontaneity, a seminal trait that is now rare indeed.

It's this spontaneity that holds the SF-based cable-access show Reality Check in place. That and gratuitous shots of really big titties. The show combines on-the-spot band interviews with kooky commentary and drunken this 'n' that. Everything is edited together into a quick pastiche of bawdy low-budgethood, complete with porno stars, Wes Craven, Joey Ramone, Ronnie James Dio, and even Erin Gray from Buck Rogers. It's silly, sometimes genuinely wild, and dedicated to promoting local bands.

Behind the scenes of Reality Check are four guys who really like Kiss. "Everyone [involved] has to love Kiss," says Ace Annese, one of its creators. "Kiss made a band that they would've wanted to see. We pattern ourselves after that credo. We have created the TV show that we always wanted to see." Founding Reality Check dude Hugh Kinniburgh (or "Huge," as the ladies call him) first had the idea for the show back in '91. He was working at the video department of the Fairmont Hotel when he noticed that the mainstream media wasn't paying attention to the people protesting Operation Desert Storm. Taking matters into his own hands, he pulled out his Hi8 videocamera and dubbed the project "Reality Check." From there he took it to the next obvious level, adding rock bands, midgets, and strippers. Now the show airs in SF and LA, and on Berkeley's Channel 25 on Saturday night at 11:30. The Reality Check radio show runs in Oakland on 93.7 from 10 to midnight on Tuesdays.

In order to get material for the show, the motley crew bumrushes award shows, concerts, and parties, camera in tow, catching the famous and not-so-famous in a candor that can only come across when someone is waving a tiny Hi8 at you instead of a Betacam. "Hugh is the main camera guy," says Ace, "but he offers commentary. Almost like a Greek Chorus." Then there are the women, or "Reality Chicks," who are usually provided by Ace's other job, a strip joint called the New Century Theater. Cocreator Dragon Dave showed up later in the game with a lot of triple-X industry connections, adding more silicone to their wall-to-wall tit shots. "It's certainly gratuitous," admits Ace, "but its not done in a disrespectful way. We have a tongue-in-cheek element of fun in it."

They also have an attitude, with egos to match, but they never seem jerky. All in all, they're just a band of fellas who can't believe how lucky they are to be doing what they are doing. Danny Shipman, the chief GBG (girl band geek) of the crew, will talk to you and laugh pleasantly, but be prepared to find his eyes flittering down to your bosoms and then back up to your face at least ten times during the normal course of conversation. Looking something like a doe-eyed hescher meets .38 Special, he attacks each episode as if it were his first; as if each band were Kiss; as if each woman who presses his face into her she-teats were a pleasant anomaly never before experienced. Hugh is the sweetest, with kind eyes and a Silicon Valley look, of sorts. Ace is a hipster Ichabod Crane: long and slim with animal-print vestments. And Dragon Dave? Well, Dave looks like a guy who could hook you up with the triple-X industry.

Overall, Reality Check attempts to journal underground culture. "We try to be on the cutting edge, to be the first," says Ace. "We just went to the Wondercon Comic Convention in Oakland. We interviewed Julie Newmar, Gary Berghoff (Radar from MASH), and people on Star Trek and X-Files. Then at the last Bammies at the Kaiser we interviewed Sammy Hagar, Huey Lewis, and Koby Dick from Papa Roach. 'Thank God I'm with friends now,' he told us. 'No more assholes from Channel 4!' I've known him since before their record deal, but they still appreciate us because we gave them exposure before anyone else. The Donnas, Korn, Nashville Pussy -- they have all been on way before anyone else was doing anything about them."

This is the main thrust, pun intended, of Reality Check: They really help promote bands and musicians. "If [our show] benefits the scene, then it was worth it," concludes Ace. "And we never get sick of boobs."

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