Shawn Mendes could’ve coasted. He could’ve fed off the screams of his sold-out crowd Saturday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, and he would’ve left overstuffed. Every glance, every grin, every bicep bulge and pulsing forearm vein dialed the din of 14,000-plus fans into the deafening red.
He’d finish a song and they’d scream; he’d approach the edge of the stage and they’d scream louder. He’d wail his heart out and they’d sing along; he’d flip back his perfect Steve Harrington hair and they’d go absolutely mental.
Worse fates could befall a 20-year-old heartthrob, it’s true. But throughout the concert, you could sense Mendes was hungry for something else.
Five years ago, Mendes played Tampa’s Jingle Ball at this building as a raw teenage Vine star still struggling with basic inter-song banter. On Saturday he played like a guy who’d spent every day since obsessing over Coldplay tour videos, studying to sing like Prince (Nervous) and play guitar like John Mayer (Ruin) and strut around the stage like Bono (Treat You Better) and come to think of it, didn’t a young Bruce wear a lot of sleeveless tees, too?
To be clear: Mendes isn’t there yet. But it feels like he’s starting to figure it out. He and his four-piece backing band amplified the flimsy, strummy Stitches and Treat You Better into avalanches of stadium rock, and leaned heavily into the disco-soulful, falsetto-fied funk of Lost In Japan and Particular Taste. As if to encourage comparisons to Coldplay, he closed the show by rolling a cover of Fix You straight into his own In My Blood.
Mendes spent most of his time slinging a series of guitars, occasionally slipping behind a piano for the odd ballad like Never Be Alone or a handful of medleys. One highlight: Like to Be You, a delicate pop gem written with Julia Michaels that he could play in Toronto coffee shops until he dies. Another: Where Were You In the Morning?, a twinkly modern yacht-rocker, complete with a wavy-sunset backdrop, that got a few dads in the crowd up off their phones.
While Mendes didn’t close with it, the set hit a peak late with this year’s If I Can’t Have You, a big, joyful, four-on-the-floor disco-funk revival that might be the best natural encapsulation of his talents to date. The athletic singer jumped around to the beat and so did the audience, creating one of the few moments in his show -- maybe his entire career -- that felt like it could’ve come only from Mendes, no one else. One wonders what he’ll be capable of when he figures out how to live in those moments a little longer.
Absent from the action was occasional collaborator and possible girlfriend Camila Cabello, even though she was spotted by his side all over Tampa -- dining at Bahama Breeze, chilling at the Oxford Exchange, even checking out a Blink-182 concert Friday night. Instead, Mendes mixed their two collaborations, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Senorita into a medley all by his lonesome.
But fans did get a fine show by opener Alessia Cara (who, fun fact, actually met Mendes for the first time four years ago in Tampa). The former Best New Artist Grammy winner is arguably as accomplished as Mendes, and she performed like she knew she deserved more than the 40 minutes she got.
Cara was a dervish of curls and can-do confidence out the gate, opening with an emphatic rendition of her breakthrough single Here, and later singing her just-released single Ready for only about the third time live. During the empowering Scars to Your Beautiful, she undid a midriff-baring T-shirt knot, embodying the comfort and be-yourself message of the song and, really, her entire career. Even her obligatory Disney song, Moana's How Far I'll Go, earned a powerful acoustic sing-along from the arena.
That’s kind of telling, isn’t it? That an arena full of shrieking Shawn Mendes fans could belt out every word of a modern Disney ballad? Indeed, there were still a lot of children in the crowd alongside all the screaming teens and grown-ups. Mendes might model sexy undies in his spare time, but he’s still fairly chaste in concert.
That won’t last forever. Just look how he’s evolved from 15 to 20, and imagine where he’ll be at 25. He’s figuring it out. He’s hungry for bigger things. His concerts are starting to live up to his potential. And all those screams aren't distracting him one bit.
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.