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Sam Ryder review – Eurovision star shines with goodwill

Sam Ryder at Outernet, London.
‘Feel the light’ … Sam Ryder at Outernet, London. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Sam Ryder stands in the middle of the crowd, singing directly to a fan. Just moments earlier, he had asked the audience if anyone was feeling “up against it” and, spotting one woman who clearly was, he jumped off the stage and dedicated his latest single All the Way Over to her. “If anyone else is struggling,” he says as people bring up the lights on their phones, “feel the light, figuratively and literally.”

Coming from anyone else, such affirmations might elicit an eye-roll. But from Ryder, it seems natural. The 33-year-old rocketed to stardom earlier this year when he represented the UK at the Eurovision song contest, where he achieved what some thought impossible – coming second place with his song Space Man and giving the UK its best result in the competition since 1998. The song was a hit at home, too, becoming the highest charting Eurovision entry since Gina G. Selling it all was Ryder’s perpetually wide grin, irresistible enthusiasm and affable charm. This was a man overflowing with good vibes.

He brings this energy to his live show. Bounding onstage like an excited puppy, his long hair flowing after him, he launches into the rousing Tiny Riot, an Imagine Dragons-esque stomper taken from his forthcoming debut album. Before long, he’s asking the audience if they all got to the venue safely, like a friend who’s invited them over for tea. He’s eager for interaction, too, repeatedly launching into Freddie Mercury-style call and response and asking the audience to put their lights in the air. “This is intended to be a dialogue,” he says before the summery throwback track Somebody, “so shove those lights up with energy and vigour.”

Unfortunately, it can be a little one-sided. The audience struggles to keep up with his acrobatic vocals, and he even acknowledges that one sing-a-long “fell apart at the end there”. He turns the intro of More into a winding ballad, derailing the song’s momentum and losing the crowd in the process. Likewise, a power ballad that compares overcoming hardship to being like a mountain turns out to be one self-help song too many. There’s a medley of covers during the encore that, thanks to some monotonous instrumentation, drags.

His voice, though, never wavers. His cover of John Farnham’s You’re the Voice is breathtaking, Ryder gliding across octaves with ease as he indulges in a few boyband air grabs, while an unreleased song, heavily indebted to the Police, injects a bit of grit into the evening. The Bon Jovi-lite Deep Blue Doubt showcases his full-bodied falsetto, and during the inevitable closing number Space Man, he pushes his voice into a satisfying growl as he soars into the chorus. It’s a genuinely stirring conclusion to an evening overflowing with earnest optimism. For some it might be too cloying and exuberant. Sam Ryder, though, is up among the stars, being dazzled by their light.

• Sam Ryder plays a second night at HERE at Outernet, London, on 24 November

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