The last scheduled concert of the original Wu-Tang Clan is the subject of Casey Suchan and Denis Henry Hennelly’s lively and amusing docu, “Rock the Bells.” A paean to indie ingenuity, pic follows dedicated music promoter Chang Weisberg and his team as they juggle mountains of seemingly unsolvable problems at their 2004 Rock the Bells concert, an all-day affair in San Bernardino, Calif., featuring several cutting-edge artists and scheduled to culminate with the Clan. Between the out-there acts and the never-ending comedy of errors in the wings, docu should rock in limited release, appealing to devotees and the uninitiated alike.
The largely unflappable Chang, whose less-than-corporate operation includes his pressed-into-service mother, aunt and wife plus one assistant and a lone production manager, must wrestle with apprehensive police, inept security and growing lines of fans waiting hours in the broiling sun.
At several points, Chang is the only thing standing between his event and total chaos, as frustrated ticket-holders rush the gates. In the height of do-it-yourself entrepreneurship, Chang winds up hiding the box office take under layers of towels carried out by his nervous family, heretofore unversed in nonchalantly strolling through angry mobs toting hundred of thousands of dollars (Chang mortgaged his house to finance the concert).
Meanwhile, in the packed, sweltering auditorium, technical problems abound. Sound systems fail and rappers are stranded in the spotlight with no rhythmic backup.
With nine acts booked, the schedule is tight, and one of pic’s most hilarious segments features cross-cutting between the production manager trying to hustle off a showboating act and its oblivious, blissed-out DJ, wringing infinite subtle changes on his dying reverb.
Segments by well-known hip-hoppers like Redman and MC Supernatural alternate with more underground cult figures like Sage Francis, Dilated Peoples and Eyedea + Abilities.
But for the faithful in the audience, all this talent merely serves as a prologue to the Wu-Tang, whose stalled appearance threatens to trigger catastrophe. When the Clan fails to materialize, stretching routines to fill the gap becomes the biggest challenge.
Soon the stage is filled with rappers trying to appease the mutinous crowd. Meanwhile, backstage, Chang and Clan founder RZA desperately try to convince Old Dirty Bastard, to go on. ODB’s death four months later determined that Rock the Bells would mark the last playdate of the original Clan.
Tech credits are snappy.