the smalls: Forever is a Long Time – A Fascinating Look at Western Canada’s Iconic Rock Pioneers [Review]

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From Crowsnest Films, director/writers Trevor Smith, John Kerr, cinematographer Sean Smith and editor Ken Filewych, comes the documentary the smalls: forever is a long time. The film is playing in select theatrical showings across Canada with a home release pending.

Everyone in western Canada has a story about the smalls—or at least the T-shirt. Their myth has only grown over their 13 year absence in music. Their inability to be recognized on a larger scale and sudden breakup, despite massive regional success, left legions of adoring fans frustrated and abandoned. In 2015 they reunited, now as fathers, country stars, and estranged friends, and proved to both fans and themselves that timeless music has the power to redeem, heal, and erase the years.

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Growing up in Wainwright, Alberta Canada I’d always heard rumblings of this band called ‘the smalls’. Although I’d never actually heard any of their music back then, I had most definitely heard about them. The cool kids who were much older than me, rode skateboards and all that other 90’s stuff that older punkasses did – they listened to the smalls. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I started to really understand what this infamous Canadian rock outfit was all about and hell, it wasn’t until I was around 30 years old, and when the band had long broken up until I really dove into the music and figured it all out. I may be late to the party, but that doesn’t mean that the smalls: Forever is a Long Time isn’t one hell of a fascinating look at Western Canada’s iconic rock pioneers:  Corb Lund, Dug Bevans, Mike Caldwel and Terry Johnson.

Corb Lund? Yeah that same Corb Lund – you know, the Canadian country artist who is in my humble opinion the best country singer alive today. Corb played bass in the smalls. I knew that Lund used to be part of a metal band in his early days, but I never put the pieces together to realize he was a part of the smalls. It always comes back to the smalls – and as the documentary puts it quite simply – their legendary status. Always underground, never breaking into the United States and even having difficulty busting the Eastern Canadian market, the smalls still managed to maintain that status of legend due to their tireless touring efforts and rabid fanbase that stayed hungry for the band’s music all these years later.

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In 2015, the smalls reunited for a final farewell tour. Well — it feels like a farewell tour anyway. I missed it – because I suck and after watching the documentary, I’m even more pissed off because I’m realizing now just how damn special it really was to see the smalls performing live well over a decade after breaking up. Corb Lund has a tremendous career as a country musician, guitarist Dug Bevans just doesn’t seem to feel the need to pursue the smalls as much as he used to, singer Mike Caldwel understands the need for his band but even he seems to be happy without it… It all comes down to drummer Terry Johnson. The main and apparent driving force behind getting the original band back together, aside from the fans, was Johnson. I love this guy – he’s easily the one member of the group who still adores metal while the rest of his bandmates have tried to refocus and move on with their varying musical backgrounds.

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When filmmakers Trevor Smith and John Kerr interview Johnson about his past run-ins with the law, it made me sad. Accidentally shooting his friend, spending time in prison, Johnson has lived hard and fast just like the music he loves. He mentions that if he could, he’d love to permanently reunite the smalls so he could quit his dayjob – but it’s not gonna happen. Everyone else in the band is OK with their 2015 tour being the final one. Dammit – someone hire Johnson as their drummer please? He’s a true badass and although I myself would love to see the smalls reunite every couple years to tour Canada, I just don’t see it happening again.

The documentary does a tremendous job going behind the scenes of the band’s reunion tour, showing them rehearse while inter-cutting the candid interviews with live footage of the smalls’ performances both new and old. The editing was spectacular and I was shocked to see the band sound so damn good. Caldwel – really is as good of a singer as everyone in the documentary says he is. A humble, if not oddball man, Caldwel in no way resembles your typical rock singer but he sounds incredible. Imagine Tool’s Maynard combined with Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley and that is what you get with Caldwel.

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People always try to peg the smalls into a genre, eventually settling on “metal” or country metal. I don’t get that vibe from them. Sure their earlier records feel more punk and their final studio effort is very grunge inspired, but let’s just say the smalls are hard rock and call it a day. I’ve been listening to their catalogue of music on Spotify non-stop since watching the documentary and I hope that other newcomers do the same. Like I said, you probably heard the name before, but after watching this wonderful film, you now know who the smalls are, why they meant and still mean so much to Canadians. There’s a moment near the end of the film where the camera zooms in on a tattooed, bearded adult man crying at the front of the stage as the smalls wind down their performance. I get it man – I really do now.

Rating:

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