REVIEW: Shawn Mendes/Alessia Cara @ Wells Fargo Arena, 6.22.19

Six years ago, Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes was sitting at home learning to play the guitar and posting videos of cover songs on Vine.

Fortunately for him, the Internet world caught on to his youthful good looks and clean, yet still developing style. The videos began picking up steam in popularity, and before you could hit “shift/alt/delete,” record labels were knocking on his email inbox wanting a piece of that action.

If this sounds familiar, it is. The Internet has been a virtual breeding ground for young pop music wannabes who see the computer as a portal to superstardom. Catch the right eye at the right time, and with a little luck you’ll be the next Justin Bieber, or the next Ed Sheeran, two of the most notable names in the entertainment world who traveled this same path en route to the top of the pop music mountain.

And now you can add Mendes to the conquerors list. During his Des Moines tour stop at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday night, it was readily apparent that the now-20-year-old has won the hearts and minds of those (i.e., teenage girls) who have a taste for his sugary sweet hooks and schoolboy good looks.

In his white T-shirt with rolled up sleeves and vest, Mendes didn’t disappoint the more than 12,000 audience members in attendance, delivering “Stitches,” “Never Be Alone,” and “Lost In Japan” to shrieks of shrill delight.

The production value was superb. A large circular video screen behind the band was raised, lowered and tilted back and forth throughout the night, while square screens to either side it allowed multiple perspectives at one time. A remote video camera attached to a dolly in front of the stage gave the performance a cinematic feel, with fade-ins and outs of shots from varying perspectives. During “Particular Taste,” wristbands that had been handed out to the audience members prior to entering the arena began pulsating with the beat, changing colors to match the onscreen hues.

But all the electronic eye-candy in the world can’t save a rudderless ship. Mendes needed to prove he was than just a scream-inducing bag of young muscle, and that’s what he did, sitting down in front of a piano on a smaller secondary stage at the back of the arena where he gave nod to Whitney Houston with a solo and shortened version of her hit song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and a medley of “When You’re Ready,” “Life of the Party” and “Ruin,” and playing acoustic and electric guitar throughout the night. And yes, he was actually playing.

His falsetto in “Where Were You In The Morning” came across as a bad Prince knockoff, but, latest single “Senorita” featuring Mendes alone and at the piano, as well as his Spanish-sounding acoustic build-up to the stomping “Youth,” made up for it and his other faux pas of the evening.

During a melodic interlude on the small stage, Mendes told the audience that he likes to learn something about the new places he travels to on tour. And what did he learn about Iowa?

“There are more pigs here than human beings,” he said.

Yeah. Come on, Shawn. You may be young, but you’re hopefully not that naïve to think it’s cool to brand a state as such. A state, by the way, that was named the Number One Place To Live in 2018 by U.S. News and World Report. The state that brought you the computer. The home of the World Food Prize. You do eat, right? You’re welcome.

Misstep aside, Mendes ended with an emphatic version of “Mercy” as well as an encore of “Fix You” and the track from his 2018 album detailing his battle with anxiety disorder, “In My Blood.”

Opener Alessia Cara is an almost sure-fire bet to follow Mendes’ footsteps as an arena headliner.

Mendes may have been the star of the show, but Cara was a close second with her display of wide-ranging talents, dipping into “Wild Things” with voracity, then grabbing a Telecaster for “Comfortable,” before switching gears smoothly into the reggae-sounding “Trust My Lonely.”

Cara avoided falling into the pop rock category on the strength of her soulful delivery of “Out of Love” and crowd pleaser “Stay.”

Expect big things from Cara in the very near future. As for Mendes, despite his success, his musical transformation has yet to be complete. Let’s hope he continues to shed his pop skin and move toward music with more meat on the bone. And by meat, we don’t mean pigs.

You know, those things we have here in Iowa. Like potatoes.