I’m a casual fan of Shawn Mendes, meaning I wouldn’t change the station or skip over him on a Spotify playlist should one of his pop tunes appear. The Canadian star got his big break in 2013 covering other people’s songs on Vine, but in just a short time he’s released three hit albums and is headlining an arena tour.
Mendes’ stop at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night was a sold out affair with an audience made up primarily of teenage girls, who knew every word to every song and screamed them back at their idol at ear-splitting volume. I spotted quite a few chaperoning parents seated next to their dancing, hyperventilating children covering their ears when they weren’t checking their watches or scrolling through social media on their smartphones.
Fellow Canadian Alessia Cara opened with a hit-filled set, including “Stay,” “How Far I’ll Go” and “Scars to Your Beautiful,” that was a good sweetener for the two-hour Mendes show.
The concert seemed to be taking smaller-scale cues from Taylor Swift’s stadium tour last year: pulsating light bracelets for the audience to wear, giant sculptural elements, and two stages on opposite ends of the arena to make sure everyone got closer to his model good-looks and chiseled biceps.
But he’s more than just a pretty face. What hasn’t been showcased on any of his albums is that Mendes seriously knows how to play guitar. I mean, like, woah! His extended solos and riffs put me in mind of Lindsay Buckingham at the height of his Fleetwood Mac tenure. I kid you not.
The truth is that Mendes is better live than in the studio and somehow he needs to fix that. A live album or streaming concert on Netflix is needed pronto to really show how versatile he truly is. Or maybe better producers.
Mendes also wears his inspirations on his sleeve, whether sonically or directly. One of the night’s finest moments was “Where Were You in the Morning,” a sultry piece of Maxwell-inspired R&B that even had the chaperoning moms and dads up and grooving.
“If I Can’t Have You,” the most recent hit from his new album, had the audience jumping so hard you could feel the stands inside the arena tremble. Ditto “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” and “Life of the Party.”
Maybe because duet partner Camila Cabello was unavailable or perhaps even Mendes realizes it’s been overplayed, he kept the ubiquitous “Señorita” to just the opening verse before segueing into “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Thank you, sir!
Mendes moved to the second stage featuring a towering, glowing rose for a middle-of-set medley, which opened with a tender piano cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Mendes’ stage banter is limited, but he awkwardly encouraged guys in the audience to steal a kiss from their dates during slow jam, “Fallin’ All In You.” It was a strange suggestion to an audience demographic that was primarily female with the average age of 15. Maybe he was going for some dude-bro points, but it was just weird.
Mendes seemed to be having issues with his in-ear monitors toward the end of the show, but he didn’t let that get in the way of a rousing finale featuring a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You” which segued into his biggest hit, “In My Blood.” The two young ladies in front of me were sobbing onto each other’s shoulders as they screamed the words back at a beaming Mendes.
At just 20, Mendes has already proven that he can be a pop star, but what I’m looking forward to is his experimental rock phase when he gets older. I’ll be at that show, possibly screaming along.