Music by numbers

5 Thirty 5

Bassist Keith Roberts, singer/guitarist Neil Greene and drummer Don Morrison await their morning coffee every day at 5:35. Or at least that’s one theory on where the band gets its name.

Bassist Keith Roberts, singer/guitarist Neil Greene and drummer Don Morrison await their morning coffee every day at 5:35. Or at least that’s one theory on where the band gets its name.

Photo By David Robert

Catch 5 Thirty 5 Feb. 19 at The Zephyr with popsters The Wax Models.

“You never know who’s going to like it, unless you’re playing straight to a genre,” says 5 Thirty 5 bassist Keith Roberts. He’s talking about why the band has been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive crowd reaction to its high-energy live shows.

“Though we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band that likes to get loud, we have a broad appeal,” says drummer Don Morrison. “The songs are over-driven, hard-rocking and short, but they have interesting lyrics and melodies.”

Given their melodic songwriting emphasis, it may come as a surprise that they rock just as hard as the most brutal metal or intense hardcore band. It’s the original, dirty, rock ‘n’ roll mix of rockabilly, country and blues, but as Roberts will tell you, “People classify us differently all the time, which is a good sign.”

Rounding out 5 Thirty 5 is Neil Greene, the singer-songwriter who draws favorable comparisons to Paul Westerberg, Jay Farrar and even Tom Petty. His songs are tonic for the broken-hearted. Many of the songs are about romances from which the singer never seemed to recover, but there are also Wild West narratives like “Billy Blake and The Cutthroat Kid” ("A bottle of bourbon and a .45/Jesus will take the wheel if they can’t drive"), hard-rockers like “Home-Made Lobotomy Kit,” and the atmospheric murder ballad, “My Love’s Black Veil.”

There’s also the song, “535,” from which the band draws its rather oblique name. “It’s an ex-girlfriend’s address,” says Greene. The song is one of his lost-love anthems, equal parts finger-pointing and self-loathing. But the rest of the band members have different ideas.

“It’s the number of times I have to check the stove before I can leave the house,” says Roberts, “We should actually be called OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder]. We’re the band that always travels with wet wipes and hand sanitizers.”

“It’s five times three times five, 75, because we’re 75 percent of a good quartet,” claims Morrison. “Actually, I like the name because it’s as likely to mean nothing as anything.”

They’re rock ‘n’ roll traditionalists, but unlike some garage primitavists, they play at a high level of musicianship. The rhythm section is airtight, Roberts runs a rocking groove, and Morrison plays his stripped-down kit with easy-going authority.

Greene nicely describes it: “He doesn’t play like a drummer, but a musician.” Greene’s tasteful guitar solos really propel the songs.

The music is devoid of virtuoso wankery. There’s nothing unnecessary, everything is done in service to the songs. “It’s a weave rather than a mix,” says Morrison.

The tight, natural, well worn feel of the music is surprising, considering that Roberts only joined the group a couple of months ago. But Roberts and Morrison formed their seemingly psychic rhythmic bond long ago, when they played together in their first few bands, including Car 54 and The Lap Dogs, the band that eventually morphed into The Atomiks. Roberts and Morrison have both spent time playing in that beloved Reno band (that’s Morrison drumming on the Pontiac CD) and Roberts also played with the more blues-oriented Shin Diggers.

Greene is a veteran of The Halfway House Band, The Couriers, Sophie and TheProbiotics and Hormone. He played in these bands in the guise of hard-drinking wildman and occasional solo performer Sonny Reno. Where’s Sonny now? "He’s dead," Green says. "He died in Chicago. He got drunk, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck."