If you listened to Shawn Mendes without knowing anything about him, it may not surprise you at all to learn that his music connects with people enough that they’ll wait however long it takes to scream those songs in the biggest venue they can access. Why wouldn’t people turn out in droves for his brand of poppy, often-intimate, singer-songwriter rock almost designed to be heard in spaces as big as Moda Center, where he kicked off his “Wonder: The World Tour” in Portland on Monday night (June 27th)? (Get tickets to the tour here.)
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be here right now,” Mendes said three songs in. It’s hard to blame him; his last album, Wonder, is about a year-and-a-half old, yet another painful casualty of the Covid era’s impact on the live music industry.
Since October of ‘19, Mendes has played a handful of livestreams and small performances at festivals, but Monday’s performance, which stretched close to two hours long, was the first chance he’s had to really stretch his legs and play a real, fleshed-out show since the beginning of the pandemic. No wonder he’s excited to be back.
As such, both Mendes and the crowd seemed borderline ravenous — his performance felt cathartic, and the crowd (which was packed for a Monday evening show) never strayed from an opportunity to scream-sing their heads off (even for the more stripped-back, acoustic-guitar-or-a-piano songs). In that way, it almost feels like a gift that this tour has been so long delayed — the symbiotic relationship between the performer and the crowd becomes almost too big to fail when the anticipation levels build beyond a certain point. As it turns out, a year and a half is that point.
And Mendes ate it up so visibly that it was hard not to be charmed by it all. At one point, after walking to the end of the long catwalk that extended into the audience, he could be seen taking out his in-ear monitors, just so that he could hear the legitimately impressive roar of the Moda Center crowd. His smile in that moment was tiny enough that it would be easy to miss it if you weren’t paying attention, but it spoke to something deeper than just joy over being adored — it felt like he was finally rid of a dull ache that had been plaguing him for far too long.
Outwardly, his performance felt like a celebration; he kicked, he danced, he thrust his finger and guitar neck skyward. Halfway through, he giddily put on a cowboy hat that had been thrown onstage, wore it for a song, then tossed it back into a borderline-feral audience one song later, his inability to contain his own elation at being onstage again making him an uncontainable force of energy.
This translated wonderfully into the performance only showing minimal signs of rustiness within Mendes; the 23-year-old phenom is a remarkably adept performer, able to command basketball arenas with only an acoustic guitar and his songbird-like singing voice. One of the really great things about tours that happen months or even years after an album’s release is that the new material gets people as excited as the old hits, and this show was no exception. The audience went wild for every single song that was played — piano ballad “Look Up at the Stars” from Wonder and “Why” from his self-titled debut included.
Still, that isn’t to say there was no rust at all. Part of the problem comes down to the flow of the evening’s setlist; though the first hour of the performance was careful to maintain its peaks (Illuminate’s “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”) and valleys (“Look Up at the Stars,” the Justin Bieber co-written “Monster”), the problem began when Mendes slowed things down to play at the end of the catwalk.
First stripping back to him and two of the guitarists in his backing band, then to just himself, a five-song roadblock was dropped into the center of the evening. It never felt like the momentum returned, with several songs feeling like natural conclusion points, but failing to actually be the end. On top of that, they threw in a cover of The Police’s classic “Message in a Bottle,” which felt like a self-indulgent attempt at feeling like an actual rockstar, but without the superhuman bravado to pull it off.
But the biggest issue was the stage setup. While it was beautiful to see such crisp LEDs utilized, and the massive ring of lights that hung over the stage was pretty to look at, each element felt severely underused. The most that ring of lights did was lower and raise, and at times, it felt closer to an arena-sized loading symbol, as though the real setup had simply not finished rendering. Simple beauty only goes so far, and with Mendes firmly in the category of “arena performer,” all we can hope for is that his stage setups become tighter as his years as a performer go on.
Those nitpicks were never truly visible to most of the audience, though, who clung on until the end of the night. The crowd got to see Mendes, confidently pulling out all the stops in his quest to dazzle absolutely everyone in the room. After the end of the set, he returned to the stage for a one-song encore of “In My Blood” by being raised on a hydraulic platform from underneath the end of the stage’s catwalk, which he played until returning to the main stage to play guitar as confetti rained down from the ceiling.
Even with those lows, it felt like the whole of Moda Center — including Mendes — were united in celebrating the ability to see concerts as big as this one again. It’s not just where Mendes belongs; it’s where we all belong.
Shawn Mendes’ next tour stop is Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena tonight (June 28th). Tickets for all remaining dates are available via Ticketmaster.
When You’re Gone
There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back
Call My Friends
Treat You Better
Look Up at the Stars
Teach Me How to Love
Lost in Japan
Song for No One
Message In a Bottle
If I Can’t Have You
It’ll Be Okay
In My Blood