After some of their moms had a big night out at Xcel Energy Center last week to see New Kids on the Block back on the block, thousands of teen and preteen girls reclaimed their rightful place in screaming pop fandom Friday when modern heartthrob Shawn Mendes packed the St. Paul arena.
Still a month and a half shy of his 21st birthday, Mendes has been a viral pop star since age 15 and headlined the X once before, in 2017. He made his local debut there in 2015 when he sang two songs at the KDWB Jingle Ball.
While nowhere near as big of a leap as the one between those two arena gigs — going from a 10- to 90-minute set — Friday’s sold-out performance marked another step forward for the dimply Canadian strummer. He brought a glitzier stage production and more well-rounded, livelier songs from his eponymous third album, pretty well proving he’s more than just the new kid on top.
St. Paul was the first stop on the U.S. leg of Mendes’ 2019 tour, following a long trek through his native country that made headlines in every city. He even played Saskatoon; that’s how proud he is to be Canadian.
Fellow Toronto-area singer Alessia Caracame along for the ride with Mendes and made for a meaningful opening act Friday.
Sporting a plaid pantsuit and pink T that was equal parts work and play, the 22-year-old Cara delivered a refreshingly no-nonsense, unflashy, 40-minute set that let her songs and voice be the stars. And what a voice, too. She showed broad range, vocally bouncing from the dramatic ballad “Out of Love” to the lightly reggaeton-flavored “Trust My Lonely” to the anthemic punch of her megahit.
“So many things get thrown at you, so many people tell you who to be,” she said while introducing “Scars to Your Beautiful” as an all-out call to arms. “If anyone tells you that, they’re the one that needs to change.”
Mendes daringly stacked several of his biggest hits in the front end of his set, opening with “Lost in Japan” and “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” and soon rolling through an extra-upbeat “Stitches.” He barely gave the 16,000 or so fans time to scream between songs at first, which may been the point. Their voices were still intact to maintain a sing-along for the first half-hour.
Dressed in a black silk jacket and matching jeans that looked tight enough to hug two flagpoles, Mendes fondly recalled that Jingle Ball gig from waaaay back in his young (younger) days.
“It was the very first time I heard an entire crowd singing my song back at me,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. I walked off the stage with goose bumps.”
He got a little mushy and melodramatic as he sat at the piano for the bloated “Mutual” and stood under a solitary spotlight hugging the microphone through “Bad Reputation.” He’s one pop stud who’s still better being playful than serious, as proven by the sly new gem “Nervous,” which had an almost Prince-like rhythmic wordplay and melodic hook. (I said “almost.”)
The kid has a genuinely sexy appeal, like Ed Sheeran minus the nerdiness and John Mayer minus the ego, a quality also hit home later in another highlight off the new record, “Particular Taste.”
He thankfully kept up a coy, frisky tone throughout most of his solo set on the B-stage at the other end of the arena, too. There, he mashed up a bunch of songs — including “When You’re Ready” and “Life of the Party” — into a breezy, piano-bar-ready medley and even dropped in a little of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
The last third of his set could’ve used more dancing and less of the falsetto-fueled whimpering of “Where Were You in the Morning?” and “Fallin’ All in You.” As fans’ LED wristbands flashed blue across the arena, though, the cover of Coldplay’s “Fix Me” — “classic rock” to this crowd — literally lit things back up at the start of the encore, setting up another big sing-along with “In My Blood” for a finale. By then, the voices in the crowd were pretty well shot, but it wasn’t just from screaming.