HERE at Outernet

Jai Paul’s Londonness is one of the few details the artist has actively built into his story.

Rayners Lane in west London is namechecked in Paul’s minimal website bio; the spoken opening to one of the bredrins is unmistakably London; the red-herring Property Week story about The Paul Institute’s bricks-and-mortar headquarters credits west as “the place where it all started” and both his only ever interview and various fan posts report sightings at the Rayners Lane branch of KFC.

So this homecoming – two nights at London’s Outernet following Coachella and two New York shows – feels personal. Paul’s tender, scenic-route pop has always been a product of his city, and many UK fans were glued to Coachella’s YouTube and fan TikToks a few weeks ago as their hero’s long-awaited comeback began to materialise.

The queue for merchandise (show-specific tees with dates printed in Paul’s thin, space age font) snakes round the venue’s mezzanine and the floor fills up long before Jai’s 9pm set time. Jai’s band is made up of his brother and co-head of the Institute, producer A.K. Paul on guitar, London drummer Isaac Kizito, bassist Rocco Palladino and keyboardist Fabiana Palladino. Fabiana is a Paul Institute signee who also opens the show. Her and Rocco are the children of Pino Palladino, a legendary bassist who works closely with one of Jai Paul’s Myspace-listed influences, D’Angelo.

The band first launch into Higher Res, a 2012 collaboration with Big Boi and Little Dragon. Huge screens burst into life with bold, elemental visuals. The show’s Creative Director is Patrick Krauze with visual content by Actual Objects and additional direction from Mike Carson who worked on Kendrick Lamar’s Big Steppers Tour. Like the best of Jai’s music, the aesthetic feels ancient and lightyears ahead all at once.

A figure in silhouette emerges to join the band, it’s Jai Paul, wearing a jumper by Martine Rose with Adidas bottoms and Oakley shades. Someone near us shouts “RAYNERS LANE!” with local pride. 

The set takes a little while to find its groove with tracks like 2019’s He and chix clouding Jai’s vocals through slightly foggy, true-to-demo arrangements. So Long, a new song which debuted at Coachella, sounds theatrical but unworked with marching percussion and a funky bassline meandering on.  

The gear-shift comes on Zion Wolf Theme where sharper percussion transforms it into a fully-formed dub-R&B opus. That’s followed by a rare moment of chat – “Let’s try something fun” – before a glorious cover of Gary Numan’s Cars.

It’s on the opening pulse of Jasmine where the decade-plus of expectation finds its sweet release; an impossibly compelling lovesong brought to life with moody atmospherics Controversy-era Prince levels of cool. BTSTU achieves a similar high. Despite the crowd clearly being of the Jai Paul generation, these moments managed to sidestep nostalgia for something more defiant. He’s back and he wants what is his.  

@crackmagazine Jai Paul just premiered new music at his London show 🫣 #JaiPaul ♬ original sound – Crack Magazine

Before we know it, Str8 Outta Mumbai reaches its transcendent climax, a sample of Bala Main Bairagan Hoongi by Indian playback singer Vani Jairam, the room is transported. There’s something poetic about the original being recorded to be mimed along to in cinema – designed to be repurposed and reimagined by new characters.

Jai’s hands are in the air while the applause feels unending. It’s hard to hear through the noise but he puts his hands to his heart and leans into the mic, “My home city.”