Shawn Mendes gave an intimate concert on Saturday at Toronto’s The Great Hall, which holds a special place for the 18-year-old singer-guitarist.
“Me and my band rehearsed here for the first time ever back before the MMVAS [MuchMusic Video Awards] and I performed ‘Stitches’ for the first time,” he told the crowd of 500 lucky contest winners, whose female quotient screamed at pretty much any opportunity. “So it’s cool to be back here. I remember standing on this stage for the first time meeting my band and figuring out where I wanted to go in terms of live performance. It’s really nice to have it all sorted right now.”
Sorted is right. Mendes’ last hometown concert was headlining the Air Canada Centre in August and he just sold-out New York’s Madison Square Garden. His second album, Illuminate, which came out Sept. 23, is on track to top the Billboard 200 chart and he is set to begin a 45-date all-arena tour in Manila next March that will take him all over the globe for the better part of the year.
Mendes’ underplay at the Great Hall was a rare opportunity to see the rising Canadian star, who first earned millions of fans in 2013 through his Vine videos before landing a record deal with Island in 2014.
Concertgoers won tickets for the night’s 45-minute set through a variety of methods. The first 30 fans to arrive at a Toronto pop-up shop on Sept. 22 and preorder Illuminate on site received tickets to the show and a meet and greet with Mendes; the next 50 got tickets only. Then the remaining 400 or so passes were handed out through contests on radio local stations, TV morning shows, social media and a partnership through Tourism Toronto.
Over 125 years old, the historic venue, with its built-in stage and horseshoe balcony, was mostly filled with kids and their parents. While waiting for Mendes to begin promptly at 7 p.m., a little boy skipped around a column and a girl braided another’s hair. Teenage girls were anchored in front of the stage, with screams starting as soon as Mendes appeared with his acoustic guitar for “Something Big” off his 2015 chart-topping debut album, Handwritten.
“I feel it in my bones,” he wailed in his bluesy tone, probably surprising more than a few of the moms and dads in attendance too. When the song kicked in for the chorus, he encouraged his fans to “sing it out” for the “whoa, oh ohs” and more. They didn’t need to be told twice.
The new “Three Words” followed before the whole band joined Mendes for the soulful “Ruin,” which had the shrill-sounding teens backing him on entire lines; the album had been out a week and a day and most knew it better than his or her schoolwork. Screaming continued until Mendes introduced the next song “Lights On,” another new one. “You guys rock,” said Mendes. “That’s the first time I’ve sung that song when the album’s been out.”
He then laid into the bluesy ballad “Don’t Be A Fool,” before rocking a fiery version of his smash “Treat You Better.” He put down the guitar for “Like This,” accompanied only by a pianist, then, with his band back onstage, performed the darker new single “Mercy.” He then got behind the Baldwin baby grand piano himself for his No. 1 hit “Stitches,” followed by “Life of the Party.”
And on the dot, after 45 minutes, he said, “I love you guys. See you soon. Thank you for coming” and left the stage with a wave. Next time, these kids see him, he’ll just be waving to several thousands more.