The first non-hip hop show that I took in at RBC Bluesfest 2018 was Shawn Mendes. Don’t judge me for being open-minded. I’ve watched a few Shawn Mendes interviews earlier in the week so I was intrigued by how he would be as a live performer.

I immediately felt out of place. I imagined people saying to themselves, “What is this black guy doing at a Shawn Mendes concert by himself?” Looking around, I was honestly expecting see a lot more women than men, but the crowd was mixed, which means the men in attendance were either with their significant other, trying to pick up girls, or they themselves were Shawn Mendes fans.

Mendes immediately came out of the gate with a big tune, There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back. I thought he would’ve kept this song for later since it’s such a big song; but then again, almost every Shawn Mendes song is a big song.

He quickly noted how excited he was to be back in Canada before going into Lost In Japan, which is a different sound for him. It has a groove to it. At one point he stripped it down and it got really personal. You saw the contrast between the Ghostface Killah show we took in just before this one. Whereas Ghost had a DJ and hype man to help him carry the show, Shawn Mendes was the sole focal point and bared sole responsibility for engaging with the crowd, and he did it effortlessly.

Shawn Mendes performs on the big stage at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa, Canada (©Mark Horton)

Then came one of his biggest hits Stitches. During this song I marvelled at his guitar playing, thinking about the fact he learned to play guitar by watching YouTube. It’s crazy to think someone could go from learning to play by watching videos to now playing in front of packed crowds every night.

Of course, he also went back to his YouTube and Vine roots doing covers of Frank Ocean’s Thinkin Bout You (on piano with no band at that) and Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody.

My favourite song of the night was Bad Reputation; it’s just a beautiful song and the story he’s telling is also beautiful. There’s a girl that has a bad reputation, but he sees and loves the real her that nobody else sees. At this point I wished my wife was with me. The bridge of the song is pretty much Shawn Mendes rapping which made me love the song even more.

Aside from Bad Reputation, the other highlights for me were his performances of Ruin and Where Were You In the Morning?. They’re both soulful and bluesy songs. The prior featured a cool electric guitar solo from Mendes and him going out into the crowd. Another highlight was when he dedicated Never Be Alone to a friend in Ottawa who was recently in a boat accident.

Mendes closed with more of his big commercial hits, including his newest single In My Blood and Treat You Better.

Whenever I go to a concert featuring a big superstar like Shawn Mendes I always try to sit back and assess why this person is a big superstar and whether they should be. Although I wasn’t blown away by his concert, I can definitely see why people love Shawn Mendes.

He’s a great songwriter. His lyrics are personal, well-written, and inspirational, and he has songs for almost everyone- couples, young girls, and men want to pretend like they’re cool, but love Shawn Mendes on the down low. When it comes to songs like You Can’t Take My Youth Away, that go overboard on being inspirational, I usually find them cheesy, but I’ll take it over some of the crappy messaging being put out there today.

Shawn Mendes is also a good musician and a flat out nice guy, which made him came across as an extra nice version of Justin Bieber.

As I said, I wasn’t blown away by Shawn Mendes, but watching him go through his catalogue, I forgot how many hits he has in such a short period of time. No matter how you feel about his music, you have to respect his talent and what he’s been able to accomplish in the industry as a Canadian kid from the Greater Toronto Area.

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