It’s not exactly a novel concept for a crowd to be actively rooting for their headliner, but in Jai Paul’s case there isn’t a single person in the room who doesn’t want him to absolutely nail this. We all know about Paul’s tumultuous, if not cruel journey to this point, one of unauthorised leaks and a crippling mental fallout. It’s the reason that tonight’s performance at London’s Here in Outernet (May 9), announced shortly after his shock Coachella appearance in April, holds such weight.
That palpable energy is felt as soon as you enter the venue – there’s a buzz in the air not often seen at in the capital. Perhaps it’s the shiny new interior of the recently-opened Here, with its new car smell, thunderous speakers and LED wall; more realistic is the idea that everyone knows they’re one of the special ones for simply getting inside the room.
A 100-person queue snakes around the upstairs mezzanine with people striving to get the coveted merch before the gig. Outside of that queue, the rest of the venue, both upstairs and downstairs, is close to capacity before the support even starts. We hear the standard mutterings of latecomers trying to get a space: “Fuck it’s so busy” says one shocked girl to her friend. “I told you we needed to get here at doors” she replies pointedly.
By the time Paul makes it on stage, around 30 minutes later than his advertised 9pm start, the crowd are rabid. The cheering before he even sings a note shakes the entire room, every time it begins to die down, it starts up again.
The first few tracks are slick as hell. His voice on ‘He’ feels warm and full, and there’s no sign of nerves, it’s pitch-perfect and even better than the recorded versions we’ve had to live with for over a decade. It does beg the question, and one that irks us the whole way through, what has Paul and his audience been deprived of for the last decade?
And there seems to be refinements from his Coachella sets in April, his first ever live performances: tonight, the set sounds polished. It’s as if Coachella was the bike with stabilisers, and the hometown show is him riding full pelt down a hill without fear.
‘Crush’ and ‘100,000’ offer big energy moments, every high note hit, the band oozing finesse and confidence, while the visuals – like something out of Blade Runner 2049 –are stunning. The show doesn’t feel cobbled together either, it’s well thought-out and meticulous. There’s little interaction between songs besides cursory acknowledgments: “How are you doing?” gets an applause so rapturous you’d think he’d just delivered some sort of prophecy.
There’s room for looseness, though. Paul bursts into a blistering rendition of ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan and the crowd, of course, loses it. The pulsating red lasers in the background accompanied by Paul’s best Numan impression and a frantic tambourine shake make for a real curveball.
And it’s hard to overstate quite how good Paul’s voice actually sounds live. There’s the echo and reverb we’ve come to expect from the records, but hearing is believing. It’s soft and sultry when it needs to be, the highs are beautifully reached and the lows bellow with an emotion that’s been stored up for far too long. Following ‘Cars’, the crowd are so revved up like it’s a rave rather than a gig by the time ‘Good Times’ rolls around. Worth noting that until now we’ve only heard 28 seconds of this track, and now it’s a fully fleshed-out song. Ten years we’ve waited for that.
For ‘Jasmine’, the crowd lean on his every word, and the cheering by now is borderline comical. It’s even during songs, his crowd unable to to wait until the end of the track to show their love. The finality of ‘BTSTU’ and ’Str8 Outta Mumbai’ offer a gut-punch and, potentially, closure for all involved, the entire crowd screaming back the most apt line in Paul’s discography: “I know I’ve been gone a long time, I’m back and I want what is mine”.
Never has something felt more appropriate. The sentiment that Paul should have been doing this for 10 years cuts deep but to see him perform, after all these years, and to such an incredibly high standard, provides a truly touching musical moment. He’s back and the world is finally his for the taking. It’s like we’ve been keeping the seat warm for him and now he’s ready for the throne, forget Charles getting crowned, all rise King Jai.
Jai Paul played:
‘Higher Res’ (Big Boi cover)
‘Crush’ (Jennifer Paige cover)
‘Zion Wolf Theme’
‘Cars’ (Gary Numan cover)
‘Do You Love Her Now’
‘Str8 Outta Mumbai’