In Festival Guide Reviews

Shawn Mendes belts out a song during his Thursday night Amp set. (PHOTO: Ty Helbach)

Have mercy: Shawn Mendes delights screaming, shrieking, eardrum-destroying crowd

Well, eardrums, we had a good run. But after almost 28 years of listening power, my ability to hear finally had enough, dying off the way of the dodo or a Wendy's frosty left out in the summer heat. What awe-inspiring, ear-shattering event finally brought my ears to their knees? A hard-rock screamo band booked for the Big Gig? Standing next to a jet engine? The latest Michael Bay cinematic opus of sound and fury?

Nope. As it turns out, my ears' greatest enemy would turn out to be a Canadian pop star not even old enough to legally drink.

Now, this isn't meant as some kind of snarky critic insult, because Shawn Mendes was actually terrific Thursday night headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, cruising through his handful of top-40 hits along with a few surprises in his 70-minute set.

No, it was the massive – and massively loud –turnout of fans, from the first dimming of the lights to the final chorus of Mendes' closer, "Treat You Better," shrieking and screaming and shouting and, by the end of the night, slaughtering my poor ear holes. And the worst part is I can't even blame them, thanks to Mendes' efficiently excellent collection of poppy singer-songwriter hits and charming low-key charisma. I mean, look at this face:

I may not be the target audience – I'm about 10 years too old and a Y chromosome too many – but that's a pretty scream-worthy face. (Sorry, ears.)

Despite the massive stage Thursday night, Mendes' path to superstardom comes with humble origins. The Toronto native originally made his name playing covers on the video-sharing app Vine in 2013, catching music producers' ears enough to snag a deal with a record label. Five years later, Vine may've been blown up, but Mendes has only continued to blow up, dropping three albums – most recently a self-titled record released just this past May – and multiple top 40 hits. All before the age of 20, in case you wanted to feel old and depressed about what you've done with your life.

There was nothing to be depressed about at Mendes' headliner show Thursday night, however. (Well, when the crowd got more riled up by a pre-concert Chainsmokers song than Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower," that did make me want to walk into Lake Michigan, but I digress.)

Coming out to a large screen rendered staticky and black and white, as well as an even larger high-pitched roar of approval from the Amp crowd, Mendes opened the night up not holding anything back with, well, "There's Nothing Holding Me Back." The audience was so thrilled, at one point they beat the young performer to singing his own chorus.

From there, Mendes moved on to two lesser known tracks, "Nervous" and "Lost in Japan," though the lack of radio play didn't discourage the crowd from going nuts. Both songs delighted the audience with the singer's swooning, floating falsetto – used toward a fun strutty number in the case of the former, a sultry and groovy jam for the latter. He then kicked off a low-tempo but momentum-building rendition of his mega-hit "Stitches," causing the crowd to reach new heights of decibels, as well as causing me to reach out to my priest to ask for last rites for my eardrums.

Mendes continued to truck through tunes unabated, hitting the bombastic and shadowy (or at least shadowy for a 19-year-old Canadian pop star) rocker "Bad Reputation" and "Ruin," a slow jam off his latest album that sounds like a very good audition to be the next John Mayer.

The latter tune also moved Mendes into the crowd a bit, wading into the audience in one of the evening's rare major interactions. Otherwise, the pop star was fairly quiet, save for the typical thanks and sing-along encouragements, letting the music and the video boards – showing colorful galaxies of flowers and "True Detective" opening credit sequences – do the entertaining. Not that anyone was particularly missing the interaction; it was one of those performances where one could see the personality radiating from the singer's face, from charmed smiles to overwhelmed stares into the massive crowd.

The singer-songwriter continued to plow forward through his setlist, from acoustic detours like the dreamy falsetto-fueled, smooth, funky jam of "Where Were You In The Morning?" to a few covers as a throwback to his Vine origins – including a piano-led version of Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' Bout You" and a brief acoustic dabbling with Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody."

The latter came near the end of Mendes' night at the Amphitheater, sandwiched in between "Never Be Alone" – performed on a truly glowing stage, beamingly lit almost entirely by the crowd's cell phone lights – his current hit, the thumping and driving "In My Blood," and his set's closer, the rollicking "Treat You Better," bringing the exceptionally efficient night of music to an end.

Really, the only trip-up happened on "Ruin," which had a pair of powerful backlights making me think I'd have to toss my retinas onto the scrapheap with my eardrums. Thankfully, I had my sunglasses. Otherwise, save for some earpiece trouble that never seemed to hinder the singer's smooth voice, the night was pretty much flawless. Some might've harrumphed at the lack of an encore, but everyone seemed content on the way out. I know my ears were grateful to avoid any more screaming. Talk about having mercy.

Given the always unenviable task of opening was Brit pop star Charli XCX, who is frustratingly still not a massive star yet – though through no fault of her own. She sure as hell deserves to be, especially considering the energy she brought to the balmy two-thirds-full Amp with exuberant hits like the unapologetically youthful "Break the Rules," the bubble gum pop of "Boys" and the swooning sing-along closer "Boom Clap."

The only downside of the mini-set was, since some of her most recognizable work is in collaboration with others – "I Love It" with Icona Pop and "Fancy" with Iggy Azalea – she required backing tracks to perform those hits, which always takes a little air out of a live performance. It also meant I had to hear Iggy Azalea. As if my eardrums weren't about to suffer enough.

Setlist

Shawn Mendes

"There's Nothing Holding Me Back"
"Nervous"
"Lost in Japan"
"Stitches"
"Bad Reputation"
"Ruin"
"Thinkin' Bout You" (Frank Ocean cover)
"Youth"
"Mercy"
"Where Were You In The Morning?"
"Fallin' All Over You"
"Never Be Alone"
"In My Blood"
"Use Somebody" (Kings of Leon cover)
"Treat You Better"

Charli XCX

"I Love It" (Icona Pop cover)
"Break the Rules"
"After the Afterparty"
"Dirty Sexy Money" (David Guetta & Afrojack cover)
"Focus"
"You're the One"
"Unlock It"
"Boys"
"5 in the Morning"
"Fancy" (Iggy Azalea cover)
"Boom Clap"


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