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They're cookin' the books

Detroit's High Strung comes to town for their third National Public Library Tour.

August 15, 2007|Kevin Bronson | Times Staff Writer

Singer-guitarist Josh Malerman is hitting the books again, and it has nothing to do with studying.

"I'm sitting outside the library in Carson City right now," he said enthusiastically by phone from Nevada earlier this week. "They've got an Alfred Hitchcock festival going on. It's fantastic."

Later, the library would also host a rock 'n' roll show, and Malerman's hyperkinetic trio, the High Strung, would headline -- another stop on the Detroit-based garage-rock group's improbable National Public Library Tour (which comes to Temple City and Manhattan Beach this week). For the third consecutive summer, Malerman and bandmates Chad Stocker and Derek Berk are turning libraries into places to be rocked, not shushed.

"It's brilliant; I wish I'd thought of it," Malerman said of the idea, hatched by a Michigan youth librarian named Bill Harmer. "At first it was horribly awkward, especially since we were told, 'Play as loud as you normally do.' "

A segment on National Public Radio two years ago spread the word, "and now most of the time it's like an all-ages show," Malerman said. "The whole thing hinges on whether the [local branch's] librarian is active in the community. We've played to big crowds; we've played to four kids and the librarian."

With its smart lyrics, bouncy melodies and punk-rock sense of humor, the High Strung seems a perfect fit. The band sounds like the Ritalin kids of the Who bouncing through the Zombies' catalog, and no matter whether its music pleases the palate of the entire population of the summer reading program, the group brings plenty of energy.

This is the outfit that two years ago left its Chevy tour van -- with 318,000 miles on it, almost as many coats of spray paint and a "plaque" describing the donation -- at the doorstep of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The group has averaged 300 shows per year for four consecutive years, and on this tour sometimes it works in a club date after a library gig. And even living out of the tour van, Malerman finds time to write both fiction and songs, which practically makes a library tour an exercise in double dipping for him.

"If you don't have adherence to self-discipline, you don't get anything written on the road," Malerman said. "I try to explain that to my girlfriend. She says, 'You're out there on vacation with your friends.' But that's not what's happening out here."

The High Strung's third album, "Get the Guests" (released in May), has earned praise from the likes of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, but Malerman is already planning the band's fourth.

"I'm trying to schedule it," he said, "because next summer we're talking about playing libraries in Australia."


The High Strung

Library shows (free): 6 p.m. Thursday at Temple City Library, 5939 Golden West Ave., Temple City, (626) 285-2136; and 4 p.m. Friday at Manhattan Beach Library, 1320 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-8595

Club shows: 9 p.m. Thursday at Silverlake Lounge, 2906 Sunset Blvd., L.A., $8, (323) 666-2407; and 9 p.m. Friday at DiPiazza's, 5205 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, $10, (562) 498-2461.

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