Review: Shawn Mendes exceeds pop star expectations

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The music of Shawn Mendes is undeniably catchy.

The young singer is also easy on the eyes, especially if young male singers capture your fancy (and you’re a teenage girl).

But these factors alone aren’t what sent Mendes, who is supporting his latest album “Shawn Mendes,” to the top of the class of pop singers in my book after his Aug. 30 performance at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

After all, there are scads of pop singers with catchy tunes who don’t sell out two nights of at an arena. And there are plenty of good looking singers who aren’t able to command an army of teenage girls to break into song after song with them.

Where Mendes stands out from the pack is his energy, enthusiasm, and authenticity. Throughout the evening, these ingredients made Mendes a pop music force to contend with.

Lots of pop stars will spin about with their guitar, pump their fist in the air, shout out, “Mohegan Sun, how are you?” and flash a big old grin.

But for some pop stars, although the rock star motions will be well-played, they will be just that, a play, a choreographed script.

Mendes pulled out the pop star clichés, but made them feel genuine and infectious. He made it all seem as if he was breaking new ground on stage.

And that kind of vibrancy helped all of his songs crackle with infectious energy.

“Treat Her Right,” “In My Blood,” “Stitches,” “Nervous,” and “Japan” were just some of the tracks Mendes took to the Mohegan Sun stage, injected with that aforementioned energy, that helped further my appreciation of his music.

Now, mind you, this is not the first time I’ve seen Mendes perform. I caught him as an opener many years ago, where he just stood in one spot with his acoustic guitar and a drum track playing behind him. Although he was starting to break out because of his YouTube videos, he was still awkward, despite his boyish charm.

So, I was impressed with how much confidence he has picked up since then. And I was impressed with how much of a showman he has become and how he makes it seem so easy.

I also was in awe of his endurance. He rarely left the stage … except to transport himself to another stage at the back of the auditorium. And he never just stood in one place, even finding ways to make the stationary act of playing a grand piano feel like a Zumba workout.

All in all, Shawn Mendes is working the well-worn path of a pop star. But he managed to make it feel new and exciting– even for those of us have watched the pop star juggernaut oodles of times before.

Alessia Cara opened for Mendes. And like the headliner, Cara overflowed with energetic authenticity. She made you want to watch her.

Cara also sang about topics that the mostly female teenage audience could relate to. And the audience could look at Cara and see themselves. This was no pop star Barbie before them. She was real.

Musically, Cara, who will be releasing a new EP “Okay Okay” soon, is a cut above the usual pop singer. Her lyrical phrasing borrows heavily from jazz music (with a touch of flow from the rap universe). And the timbre of her voice made me think of the late Billie Holiday or the more contemporary jazz pop  songbird, Norah Jones.