SStanding in the middle of the crowd, Ryder sings directly to a fan. Just moments earlier he had asked the audience if anyone felt “against” and when he spotted a woman who clearly did, he jumped off the stage and dedicated his latest single “All the Way Over” to her. “If someone else is struggling,” he says, as people turn on the lights on their phones, “feel the light, figuratively and literally.”
Coming from someone else, such affirmations might evoke an eye roll. But of course it seems to be from Ryder. The 33-year-old rose to fame earlier this year when he represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, where he achieved what some thought was impossible – taking second place with his song Space Man and giving Britain its best result in the competition since 1998. The song was also a hit at home, becoming the highest-charting Eurovision since Gina G. Ryder’s ever-wide smile, irrepressible enthusiasm and affable charm sold everything. This was a man flooded with good cheer.
He brings this energy to his live show. He hops onto the stage like an excited puppy, his long hair blowing behind him, and throws himself into the rousing Tiny Riot, an Imagine Dragons-style stomper from his forthcoming debut album. He’s soon asking the audience if they all got to the venue safely, like a friend who invited them over for tea. He’s also eager for interaction, beginning again and again with Freddie Mercury-style call and response, prompting the audience to raise their lights in the air. “This is supposed to be a dialogue,” he says ahead of summery throwback track Somebody, “so push those lights on with energy and panache.”
Unfortunately, it can be a bit one-sided. The audience struggles to keep up with his acrobatic singing, and he even admits that a sing-along “fell apart in there at the end”. He turns More’s intro into a curvaceous ballad, derailing the song’s momentum and losing the crowd in the process. Likewise, a power ballad that compares overcoming adversity to being like a mountain turns out to be one self-help song too many. During the encore there is a cover medley that is drawn out thanks to the monotonous instrumentation.
However, his voice never wavers. His cover of John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” is stunning, Ryder gliding through the octaves with ease while indulging in some boy band airgraps, while an unreleased song, heavily indebted to the police, brings the evening down a notch Grimm bestows. The Bon Jovi-Lite Deep Blue Doubt shows off his full-bodied falsetto, and during the inevitable closing number, Space Man, he lowers his voice into a satisfying growl as it soars into the chorus. It’s a truly rousing conclusion to an evening of serious optimism. It may be too sweet and exuberant for some. Sam Ryder, however, is among the stars, blinded by their light.