J. Paul Slavens has a combination of charisma and sarcasm that is enough to leave any audience in stitches. Slavens made a name for himself in the '80s as a member of the popular North Texas band Ten Hands and has since had a career as a composer, radio show host and award-winning musician. Now Slavens and his four bandmates take requests, sort of: You suggest topics and ply the band with bribes and maybe Slavens won't directly make fun of you. I went to a recent show at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton (he took a shot at it last night at Crown & Harp as well), and I was beyond entertained.
You may think you have an interesting idea for a song. But Slavens is anything but shy and will be glad to tell you what a load of garbage your choice is; that is, unless it's wrapped in a five-dollar bill. Slavens warns the audience that life is full of ripoffs and disappointment, and tosses the first few requests topped with one-dollar bills over his shoulder.
Finally someone mans up and lays down a respectable amount of money, in Slavens' opinion. The original song titled "The Facebook Me Doesn't Like The Real Me" starts off as an unofficial tribute to Manti Te'o. Although the comedic lyrics are extremely apparent, the audience is pleasantly surprised by the talent behind the composition. The original song warps into a bluesy tune accompanied by an electric harp and a hard-hitting harmonica, and for a second you almost forget that this is all improv.
The only thing Slavens enjoys more than monetary encouragement is a fresh whiskey and water to help inspire his creativity for the next outrageous request. Slavens shakes his head with vexation as he reads the next song title on a crumpled piece of bar napkin, "Saggy Balls and Perky Tits." He throws back his drink and begins to compose his next masterpiece, while commenting on his bassist's abnormally descending testicles; which gives the crowd a disturbing visual. But he continues unabated and turns a potentially crappy idea into a hilarious and entertaining ensemble. His sax player picks up a pair of instruments in homage to the topic.
Some of the original songs were reminiscent of other popular records. Audience request "Sober Hippies" started with the tune from "Going to San Fransisco" by Scott McKenzie to get the crowd in a '60s state of mind, but he eventually steered away and began singing the lyrics "While everyone's out doing acid, mushrooms and ecstasy, you and I will just get high naturally." The song then ended with the audience laughing hysterically as he reverted to "Here Comes the Sun" by George Harrison.
If you ever get the chance to see Slavens and his quartet play one of their comedic improv acts, bring your best ideas and a stack of fives. Because even an outrageous request like "The Abyss Has a Lazy Eye" can be turned into a symphonic masterpiece.