Artist: CLINICAL TRIALS
Venue: Revolver Video Bar, West Hollywood
Date: Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
It’s a visceral thrill for any music fan to see a performer who brings the primal energy usually reserved for mega-stars in arenas lined with towers of speakers, pyrotechnics and ranks of backing musicians and singers. When someone displays the kind of force that fully mesmerizes your attention only employing an acoustic guitar, a laptop of backing rhythm tracks and a lone vocal, you know you’re watching something special.
Clinical Trials is one of those artists. While different drummers have belted out the beat, the core of Clinical Trials has always been lead singer and guitarist front-woman Somer Bingham. She recently floored a crowd of about 50 fans with a special solo acoustic performance at Revolver Video Bar in West Hollywood.
The venue was an average sized bar with high ceilings, and as the name suggests, immense video screens dominated the walls, projecting the most intensely colorful dance and pop music videos you can imagine. People milled about the bar like they do in any watering hole on a weekday, chatting quietly and nursing drinks. Somer herself floated around the crowd, welcoming fans and friends.
Without making any physical change to her punk-rock black jeans and frayed black t-shirt, she literally morphed into a different person as she took to the small square platform by the DJ booth that served as the stage. She pulled on a low-slung acoustic guitar and the DJ started one of her backing tracks. From the first note she sang the scene was enthralled. A car could have exploded on Santa Monica Boulevard outside and nobody would have noticed or turned around.
Hanging out before the show, in all the nicest ways Somer seemed like a soft-spoken, very pretty indie-rocker of average height. On the small stage, banging on her guitar, wailing into the microphone and rocking fiercely along with the expertly mixed backing tracks, she seemed like a nine-foot tall mythological siren warrior woman. Her voice is neither too rough nor too fragile. It perfectly encompasses and runs the range of joy, pain, rage, frustration, doubt and confidence common in our mutual human experience.
It doesn’t hurt that she is uncommonly beautiful. Her very natural way of thrashing her long raven-black hair about is particularly very cool. But like all artists worth following, she has much more going on than good looks. Clinical Trials is an exciting blend of vulnerable emotion and ass-kicking aggression. While projecting a unique style all her own, it’s not hard to imagine Somer as the sonic lovechild of Kurt Cobain and Joan Jett. The distorted blast of the best of Grunge / Alternative rock is there, thankfully without the overall melancholy or boring, ‘staring-at-my-sneakers’ slack. Somer comes off as smarter, musically leaner and genuinely meaner than loopy Alt-Rock Queen Courtney Love ever has.
“American Girl” is a stand-out winner, a perfect example of how Clinical Trials combines melodic, catchy hooks with a ballsy, lip-curled punk-rock stomp. “Whip It” is a feral outcry that sets the mood for the hulking guitar tones and punching beats that give Clinical Trials a defiant, tough-girl chip on the shoulder. It’s the kind of edge you want to embrace, because of course you are just as mad about as many things in your own life. “Warpaint” is a simmering burn with a slick guitar line that meanders smoothly through the barely-controlled fire boiling in the vocals.
It would be incorrect to label it all as “Punk Rock”, but the pure Punk aesthetic of “I’m so pissed off at the world, you’re gonna hear my banshee let loose” is proudly front and center. Unlike the worst of Punk, the music is melodic and memorable, well-arranged and played throughout. She may be raging from the core of her soul, but it’s not sloppy or naive in any way.
Another plus is that it’s not all a one-sided scream-fest. Through it all there is a sense of playfulness, like all great live artists seem to be saying to their audience; “Isn’t this just awesome we’re all rocking out together?” Yes, indeed it is. She closed the set with an unexpected bouncy cover of “Hey Ya” by Outkast. Besides being great fun, it was a clever and well-timed choice, since the song has largely fallen out of regular rotation in our collective culture recently. With any luck, Clinical Trials may get the chance to gain major exposure and give our collective culture a swift kick to the skull.
Pick up the EP release BLEED ME (clinicaltrialsmusic.com) and keep an eye open for live shows in your area. It’s not something you’ve already heard a million times before. It is something you’ll want to hear about a million times more.