“It was excessive everything. Too many people, too many cops, too much control and a whole lot of fucking spit coming up on the cops. It must have been hundreds of people spitting at once. It was gross,” said Dug Bevans, guitarist with The Smalls.
Bevans is recounting the infamous riot which Kamloopsians took part in about a decade ago, when The Smalls played in an over-capacity hall.
After collecting a huge, dedicated fan base, The Smalls broke up for undisclosed reasons, but now they’re back. Bevans said it’s the support from fans that brought the band back together for this tour. Drummer Terry Johnson took on the task of maintaining their fan page during their time apart.
Judging by the sold-out crowd’s reaction when The Smalls hit the stage following Royal Tusk, not an ounce of love was lost over those 10 years.
In true punk rock fashion, in welcoming the band, a few drinks were hurled at the stage, the unmistakable odour of weed hit the air and a top in the front row came off momentarily.
Corb Lund delivered a steady, pulsing bass line. Anyone who claims that country and punk are mutually exclusive needs to see Lund perform in The Smalls. In his black cowboy boots and leather-embellished bass guitar, he stayed true to the roots of The Smalls.
Frontman Mike Caldwell only got better with time. With his sharp and unique vocals he commanded the fans’ attention for the entire two-hour long set.
Bevans rocked out on his white, chipped Gibson Flying V. He had the sweaty fans in the front row bowing at his feet.
Last, but certainly not least, Johnson kept the pace fast and heavy on drums.
The combined talents of The Smalls melded to express a soulful, sexy, rough and raw experience, complete with two encores.
The doormen had their hands full. This must have been the most crowd surfing that has ever happened inside the doors of Cactus Jacks Nightclub. Several determined fans were tossed off the stage, one by the band’s manager.
Pained looks and tired, drooping heads plagued on those in the front row by the end of the set. Their weary bodies lost some gusto, tired from getting crushed into the stage by the mosh pit behind them.
Basically, the riot went down because a promoter over-sold tickets to a show. When The Smalls were about one-third of the way through their set, the police came in and cut power to the stage.
“The kids were jammed in super tight. I don’t know what compelled the cops to come in and do what they did. They must have scoped it out and rallied the troops. They were ready and determined to shut the thing down,” Caldwell said.
The fans did not like what was happened, so they reacted.
“They started spitting. The cops were raring for any reason. They used their force. They took out their mace and sprayed these people who were trapped,” Caldwell said.
Once the mace hit the air, everyone in the jam-packed hall tried to escape. The mayhem spilled out onto the street and the fans took out their anger on whatever they could find.
“It was a full-blown riot. There were fire trucks. A guy got pulled out of a cop car because he was trying to drive it away. I’m sure there were cars overturned,” Bevans said. “The media kind of painted it on us unfairly. There was a real backlash from the community. For months on end there was a war within the city saying that the kids were punks and they deserved it.”
Whether it was the type of music The Smalls play, or the overfilled concert hall that compelled the police to shut the show down in the way they did, no one will know for sure.
The incident still leaves a bad taste in Caldwell’s mouth.
But, aside from the crowd surfing and moshing, the night at CJs went relatively smoothly for the security staff.
As for the fans, should they expect more in the future from The Smalls?
“There’s no plans to continue after the tour ends. That’s it. Everybody’s lives are full. It would take some doing to get another tour together, or start making music again. To do that again would be no small feat,” Caldwell said.
Although there are no plans set to continue rolling with what the band had started in the 90s, they know how much they have impacted their fans. During their set, they held the hearts and souls of their dedicated fans, like 10 years had never passed.
“We started seeing people come, then it was like okay, this is why we do this. We established this connection with these people and it’s still there. It’s still important to them, and it feels great to us,” Caldwell said.
Photos by Kim Anderson