Josh Ritter, Bloomsbury Ballroom, London

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The Independent Culture

In a recent interview, the rising folk-cum-middle-of-the-road rocker Josh Ritter described his mantra for performing thus: "You're like a bird that's going from telephone wire to telephone wire, and when the song is going, that's when you're flying. Then you land and you look around."

True to form, this versatile set saw the singer-songwriter deftly hopping from mild acoustic folk to electrified barnstorming. Though, while he moved between these with ease, the two-hour gig teetered in places.

From the first chords of "Mind's Eye", with which he opened, and the moment, minutes later, when his bassist helped the drummer wallop his kit in a spiral-eyed frenzy, it was clear that Ritter was intent on putting on a show. But by far and away the best moments came when he was on stage alone, bombarding the audience with the quieter – yet no less uncompromising – double barrels of his personality and lyrics.

"The Temptation of Adam", the story of a man and woman who find love in a missile silo, boasts lines like: "If this was the Cold War we could keep each other warm" and "I never had to learn to love her like I learnt to love the Bomb." Further arguments for paring it all back came in the form of "Thin Blue Flame"; initially a relatively subtle tour "over hills and fields" and a description of "trees... a fist shaking themselves at the clouds" that climbed into the kind of ham-fisted crescendo that would make Chris Martin blush.

That then, would be the major criticism about the show; it could have done with some careful editing. If "To the Dogs or Whoever" is distinctive enough to win him comparisons to Dylan, "Real Long Distance Call", with its blandly clanging riffs, could not be more anonymous. When the band swapped instruments when playing this, it was as telling of the songwriting's mediocrity as it was an amusing display of virtuosity.

But Ritter's stage presence proved infectious. He beamed like an evangelical Christian but brandished a devilishly dry wit. This culminated in a moment where he dragged a member of the crowd up on stage for a slow dance. "So, Laura, who works for an organic food company and has just moved to London from Gloucestershire," he offered in mock-serenade. But he got away with it. In the end, the spectacle of his talent overshadowed any death-defying wobbles.

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