Live Review Jai Paul, HERE at Outernet, London 9th May 2023
There’s an illusion of otherness which radiates from the songwriter even in the flesh.
A debut concert a decade in the making, it would be an understatement to say that there is an tangible sense of occasion among those present at Jai Paul’s first London headline show. Afterall, how many artists can boast that the 2,000 tickets available for their inaugural hometown performance were distributed via a ballot in a scramble for admission that would make Worthy Farm blush. Having amassed a wealth of online buzz in an era where the accolade was a rarity, Jai signed to XL in 2011 before his unfinished debut album was anonymously leaked two years later; sparking a long spell of reclusion for the artist and an indefinite hiatus from music altogether. Tonight, HERE at Outernet is packed to the rafters with punters awaiting a sign of life from the stage: watching as one in shared anticipation as the 9pm call time arrives and subsequently passes without a sniff of the elusive producer. 25 minutes pass before Jai Paul graces the stage to a rapturous hero’s welcome, a fitting sonic release of 10 years and 25 minutes’ worth of anticipation to catch the cult figure in the flesh. Walking out to 2012 Big Boi collaboration ‘Higher Res’, the set formally kicks into gear with ‘He’, which pushes the applause to even higher decibels. Jai’s small band includes his brother, A.K. (with whom he operates record label The Paul Institute) and they execute the wide range of sounds within the set with a confidence beyond their modest live experience; from the choppy guitarwork in ‘Genevieve’ to the sludgy synth riffs present throughout ‘Zion Wolf Theme’.
“I’m gonna try something fun,” Jai announces from behind his microphone stand, before the band launch into the introduction to ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan, thus injecting a joyful kick of karaoke into an evening which runs every risk of taking itself too seriously under the weight of expectation.
Part of the intrigue that has fuelled the long-time obsession with this artist is the hefty pallet of genres he picks from. Previously unheard track ‘So Long’ incorporates a pop-flecked psych instrumental that could have come straight from Kevin Parker’s hard drive, while ‘Chix’ pairs Thundercat’s brand of seductive bass with a delicate vocal which channels Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’.
The truly captivating component of tonight’s performance, however, is the intangible, unreachable quality that Jai brings to proceedings, and there is an illusion of otherness which radiates from the songwriter even in the flesh. The evening reaches an uncontainable crescendo with the triple header of ‘Jasmine’, ‘BTSTU’ and ‘Str8 Outta Mumbai’, with the venue’s gargantuan LED screen backlighting the singer’s silhouette all the while.
It’s unconfirmed what is next to come from Jai Paul. A string of TBA festival appearances? A worldwide tour? Perhaps an album of original music to be released entirely on his own terms? The giddy atmosphere left in the room after he vacates the stage implies that any of the above will be gleefully received, following what must surely be the longest wait in pop music history for the start of something special.
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