Live Review: Jai Paul @ 170 Russell, Melbourne

6 December 2023 | 3:06 pm | Noah Redfern

Artists like Jai Paul are a rare breed - a brilliant blend of experimentation and pop appeal, a perfect line between weird and fun.

Jai Paul

Jai Paul (Source: Supplied)

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Underground pop icon, internet enigma and bonafide genius, Jai Paul is one of the 2010s true mysteries.

Jai Paul’s music predates hyper-pop, blending influences and inspiring others, but clearly sows the seeds of what was to come later in the decade.

Releasing early demos BTSU and Jasmine to critical acclaim and then finding his aborted debut album Bait Ones leaked online led to Paul taking a hiatus from music for most of the decade – only to find his music garnering a massive cult following for its ahead of its time production and songwriting.

Performing for the first time live at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to an electric reception, Jai Paul has travelled around the US and Europe before jumping on Melbourne’s Always Live to deliver shows at 170 Russell in the heart of the city.

Opener Surusinghe mixed Latin and international sounds with bass-driven house and techno to warm up the punters before the support act, and Jai Paul label mate Fabiana Palladino took to the stage.

Blending RnB, indie and soul for a sure-fire brand of pop music, Palladino’s voice sounded delightful over soft keys. Tracks Waiting and Mystery made for favourite moments.

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Signed to Jai Paul and his brother A.K. Paul’s creative house, Paul Institute, Palladino had just dropped her latest single, I Care, featuring Jai Paul himself. More on this track later.

The mysterious pop star opened his set with the feature on the former OutKast rapper Big Boi's single Higher Res, followed up with his fantastic cover of Jennifer Paige’s Crush.

This version truly redefined the original with amazing production and arrangement. The busy 16th note hi-hats came in stronger live with the band, and the distinctive synth swells wrapped around the room like an off-kilter heartbeat.

Following up with 100,000, So Long and Chix before the banger All Night, the set became a clear and interesting blend of tracks off the mythical leaked album Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) along with assorted singles, collaborations and unreleased music. Building a performance from such a strange repertoire is an art form in itself.

Back-to-back floor fillers Zion Wolf Theme, Good Time and personal favourite Genevieve came next. Something was definitely a bit missing with the loss of the glitchy aesthetic, replaced with the live band sound, but this allowed the purposely broken songs to be heard just this once complete. Even though it was quite a different rendition, Genevieve still stole the show and will definitely be stuck in a few heads for several days.

Bringing out support from Fabiano Palladino for a couple of collaborative tracks, the two offer the audience a taste of their creative power in Do You Love Her Now and Palladino’s latest single, I Care. It was at this point that most of the audience realised that she’d been the band’s key player for the whole set and that their partnership runs deep.

Finally, Jai Paul ended off the set with his hits Jasmine, BTSU and, of course, Str8 Outta Mumbai to some serious acclaim. BTSU’s gorgeous soft opening vocals translated fantastically live, while Str8 Outta Mumbai made for a perfect crowd singalong during the chorus chants.

Artists like Jai Paul are a rare breed - a brilliant blend of experimentation and pop appeal, a perfect line between weird and fun. Hopefully, more music is to come, but if we don’t get another full length after Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones), Jai Paul will still have gained underground legend status.