Last summer, Will Bradford, of the band SeepeopleS, told me an anecdote about Nuclear Bootz drummer Bruce Merson that perfectly sums him up. It seems the Bootz were a bit short of money, but Merson told Bradford not to worry about getting his last payment for producing Green Velvet, because he just wasn’t going to pay his electric bill.
“I was like, ‘Jesus, Bruce, don’t do that. Just get me when you can,’” Bradford recalled.
“It’s OK, Will,” Merson replied. “Rock ’n’ roll can happen in the dark.”
Remarks like that are why Merson is considered the patron punk of Portland rock. He lives for this music, eats it and breathes it and talks about it all the time with the breathless enthusiasm of a teenage super-fan. Rock ’n’ roll may have driven Bruce crazy, but like Keith Moon, it’s also made him one of the most inventive and exciting drummers around.
There’s a lot to like about Green Velvet. Singer/guitarist Zeke Comparetto delivers a truckload of dirty, meaty riffs, and his vocals sound great — especially when, as on the ass-kicking title track, they fly off the rails into screamo territory. He and Merson have found a solid new bass player, Jonny Bootz, and the trio even stretches out into some pop balladry (“Waterfalls”) and psychedelia (“Apsara”) that, surprisingly, doesn’t suck.
But the main attraction throughout is Merson’s drumming. Tracks like garage rocker “Cheeseburger Girl,” the punk burner “Steven” and the rockabilly ride “Never Change” are pretty straightforward examples of their genre, but Bruce never plays it straight. He’s all over the kit, hitting cymbals six ways from Sunday and adding fills where they shouldn’t fit, but do. He’s a force of nature back there, unpredictable yet always on time. I’d place him second only to Adam Cogswell (Confusatron, Johnny Cremains, et al.) among Maine rock drummers of exceptional creativity, and first among everyone for pure rock ’n’ roll spirit.