Music review

At TD Garden, a more mature Shawn Mendes defies expectations

Shawn Mendes performed Thursday at TD Garden.
Shawn Mendes performed Thursday at TD Garden.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Five years ago this week, Shawn Mendes performed a brief set at the current Rockland Hills Bank Pavilion, the first of four Internet-borne teen idol acts to play that afternoon. The Canadian singer-songwriter, who’d gained fame on the now-defunct video-sharing network Vine, played solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar; he had an obvious charm and an already-devoted fanbase.

On Thursday, Mendes headlined TD Garden, the first night of a two-show stint there and his second time headlining the venue. (He’s also played a couple of times as part of Kiss 108’s end-of-year pop bonanza, Jingle Ball.) In the ensuing years, he’s become one of pop’s most beloved young stars, with a strong tenor that steadies the frenetic pace of skip-step songs like the 2017 hit “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” and adds heat to romantically minded tracks like “Why,” which appeared on his 2018 self-titled album.


Mendes’s set on Thursday was brisk even when the tempos slowed, a testament to his growing confidence as a performer and the precision of his songwriting. Early hits like the slow-burn ballad “Life of the Party” showcased his youth-borne optimism; later hits like the effervescent “Lost in Japan,” which opened Thursday night’s concert, channeled it in a conceptual way, transforming his anything-is-possible ideal into forward-thinking pop.

He may be at the top of the pop world, with chart-topping albums and screaming crowds echoing his every word, but Mendes revels in exploding expectations, as his reworks of certain tracks on Thursday showed. Right now “Senorita,” a brightly hued duet with former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello, is No. 3 on the Hot 100; he nodded to it on Thursday, transforming it into a brooding piano ballad. Other songs, like the top-40 radio staple “Stitches” and the torchy “Bad Reputation,” had their outros exploded into fuzzed-out guitar bliss, complete with juicy solos.


After “Youth,” an anthem about resilience and forward motion that, he stressed, wasn’t only about the audience’s chronologically young members (youth is “the feeling of freedom and the feeling of happiness,” he proclaimed), the pieces of Mendes’s set — and his career trajectory — clicked into place. While he’s whirled through different styles, from his early guy-with-guitar adventures to later efforts like the muscular yet bouncy sophistipop of his recent single “If I Can’t Have You” and the set-closing neo-power-ballad “In My Blood,” he’s always looked toward the horizon, welcoming his fans to join him on the thrill ride that only some guitar chords and a mighty yelp can offer.

Shawn Mendes

With Alessia Cara. At TD Garden, Thursday

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura@maura.com.