Shawn Mendes gives an all-or-nothing ACC show. But Pickering's nice guy star has to do more if he's going to finish first
Shawn Mendes brings Charlie Puth as the opening act on his Illuminate World Tour at his peril. Puth, 25, has the second-most-watched YouTube video of all time in the Fast and the Furious weeper “See You Again,” a series of degrees from prestigious music schools, some intriguing gossip involving young Hollywood-ers (ahem, Selena Gomez), and a rising hit in “Attention,” which is number seven on Billboard, right ahead of Mendes’s (ironically titled) “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.” Puth, it would seem, is poised for pop superstardom.
Yet in concert at the Air Canada Centre Friday, the first of two back-to-back homecoming shows for the Pickering singer-songwriter, there was no ambiguity as to why Mendes’ name was on the marquis. The 19-year-old holds a room with effortless charm, even when that room is a 62,000-square-metre stadium, and earnestly strives to get every 4-year-old and her granny chaperone responding to his commands of “sing it!” or “clap those hands!”
A year after he last played the ACC, Mendes is still that same eager crowd-pleaser. Some of his stage staples have been minimally refreshed: a stripped down take on “Stitches” is now a stripped down take on “Treat You Better” and the selection of pop songs he samples has been updated to 2017, with Ed Sheeran’s “Castle On The Hill” intro-ing “Life of the Party.” That original hit was performed on a platform in the round, an ideal staging for Mendes’ intimate performance style.
Earlier in the evening, he flattered the audience with some home-crowd banter. “I’ve never felt so nervous in my entire life as I did before I got onstage tonight,” he confessed. “When it’s your hometown and it’s the people who’ve been supporting you since the beginning, all you want to do is show them the best time in the world, because that’s what they deserve.”
And Mendes really did perform like this was an all-or-nothing show for him, not just month four on a nine-month world tour. Late in the show, he took a beat to just poignantly survey the crowd as it sang back the chorus of the bluesy guitar pop tune “Don’t Be A Fool.” Who does that?
“Every single show is a pleasure for me,” he assured the audience. “But there are nights where your body is like mist around you and you have no control over what is going on around you and it’s just the most incredible feeling in the world. And I am having that feeling right now and I owe it all to you guys. It’s the highest high you can possibly feel.”
Mendes, of course, is not known for his exhaustive knowledge of all the available highs. His clean-cut good looks are well-suited to his pop-rock guitar songs which, in addition to being beloved by teens and kids, are popular with moms and dads as well (a surprising number of dads at the ACC were wearing Shawn Mendes T-shirts).
Despite the concert’s intro, filled with quick-cut soundbites about how much of an “international superstar” Mendes already is, the reality is he needs to win over a lot of people to have the multi-decade staying power that defines an actual international superstar. It doesn’t help that Mendes wants to be a rock star in an era when people aren’t asking for rock stars. And he’s arguably still searching for his defining hit.
Despite the testaments of the 20,000 fans waving their cell phones, it’s still early enough for Mendes that a long career may not happen for him. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because he lacks a pop star’s performance presence. And if it does, it’s safe to say it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, even if he did forget to thank Charlie Puth.