As little as three years ago, before he got married and relocated to Little Rock, Ark., you couldn’t shwing a shtick without hitting the one-man blue-eyed funk band. Yes, a lot of his appeal was due to the fact that he played funk, soul, and R&B and was tall, skinny, and white, with long, wavy blond hair and a sandy beard that made him look like a Hollywood producer’s idea of Jesus. And people simply flipped over the spectacle of watching a hippie out-Prince Prince, falsetto notes, hip gyrations, and all. But there was never any denying Brown’s particular brand of rockish urban music or his virtuosity.
Brown drew some decent crowds at all of the hipster joints in town, like the Wreck Room and The Moon, but some of his best shows were where you least expected them. With nothing but a keyboard between himself and his audience, Brown — with his writhing string-bean body — could create some tension, which he was more than aware of and never failed to exploit. Essentially, he was a pretty masterful situational artist. He sometimes played frat-boy bars and other traditional preserves of masculinity, where the testosterone-addled regulars and their wimmin would mock him — at first. After watching him play for a few minutes, though, and seeing how severely talented — and severely earnest — he was, they’d realize that the joke was on them. All pretenses would crumble, and the empathetic bond between performer and audience would become tight. Like, Kennedy-family tight.
The Nathan Brown experience is basically about making connections — with other people, another person, a pet hamster, a song, who- or whatever. Onstage, Brown, who now goes by Browningham out of respect for his wife’s surname (Cunningham), lays himself bare. In other words, if decorum were clothing, he’d be stark naked. Watching him is sometimes like watching a 15-year-old on a sugar high alone in his bedroom. You’re gonna see whatever’s going on in his head, whether you want to or not. For encores, Brown normally stands in front of his keyboard and does cheers. We’re talking, like, “Go, team, go!” cheers. They’re all original compositions, and if they weren’t regularly performed by a Euro-Jesus in a rock club, they’d probably inspire a little school spirit in the most passionately reluctant athletic supporter. They’re not jokes. But the context in which they are performed are.
And, yes, handclaps, leg kicks, and pelvic thrusts are all involved.
There’s a part of Brown that knows that there isn’t really a market for a white old-school soul singer. So he has fun with it. He’s all about connections, remember? One of his most famous — or most infamous — songs is “Gotta Get it Outta Here,” which is also the title of his last e.p. It’s a song based on an experience he had that had something to do with a new pair of khaki pants, a locked men’s room, and the runs. The scatological details sound better when he sings them. Honestly. And haven’t we all been in a similar situation? Brown is saying he’s just like us. Warts and all.
Like a lot of white dudes his age, thirtysomething Brown has played in rock bands, including the legendary prog outfit Ohm and his short-lived solo garage-y project, Pretend King. For a couple of months back in the day, he also had a krautrock trio, A.C. Identity, and like Pretend King, A.C. Identity could have been a Next Big Thing, or at least a national glossy music magazine cover darling. His heart, though, has been in funk, soul, and R&B, and by all appearances, it’s where he and his muse will settle down. He’s currently at work on a new album, Top Love, and playing in a few Little Rock bands.
There are other one-man bands in the Metroplex, but none of them have the creative and cultural significance of Nathan Brown. They may be incredible musicians, but they’re not as singular. They may be great situational artists, but they don’t have Brown’s timing. They may be white, but they’re not black-in-white like Brown.
Any self-respecting hipster — or open-minded frat daddy — would do well to catch any one of the three Browningham shows going down this weekend. Visit MySpace.com/Browningham.
Thu w/Stoogeaphilia at The Wreck Room, 3208 W 7th St, FW. 817-348-8303. Fri w/Sparklepussy Barbie, The Winter of Our Disco Intent, and The Dutch Treats at Double Wide, 3510 Commerce St, Dallas. 214-887-6510. Sat w/Divided Like Saints and A Childlike Fear at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E Sycamore St, Denton.