Sunday, June 7, 2015

Luigi & the Wise Guys at Otto's Shrunken Head

Frankie Rage & Luigi Scorcia
Back in the late 1970s, Brooklyn native Luigi Scorcia hit the New York club scene, frequently collaborating with Johnny Thunders, with both of them playing in each other's bands. Scorcia formed Luigi & the Wise Guys as a punky rock and roll band in 1978, with Scorcia's tough Italian-American attitude powering his lead guitar work. He recruited a Puerto Rican singer from the Bronx, Frankie Rage, who brought soul and even a taste of doo-wop to the mix. Luigi & the Wise Guys played Max's Kansas City and all the local dives until its breakup in 1980. Scorcia then pursued an acting career, appearing in We Own the Night (2007), Couples (2008) and 2 Days in New York (2012), and Rage underwent treatment for cancer.

After 35 years apart, Luigi & the Wise Guys reformed with bassist Lewis Mazzio from Queens and drummer Niki Fuse from New Jersey to perform in the Max's Kansas City 50th Anniversary shows at the Bowery Electric. The band then performed a second set a few nights later at Otto's Shrunken Head. Performing the Heartbreakers-sounding "Johnny Ace," the Ramones-sounding "Hot Piece of Merchandize" and the mellower "Born Loser" among other vintage tracks, the quartet returned to straight-up rock and roll form. Scorcia propelled the set with stinging guitar leads and riffs, but more importantly Rage demonstrated vivid proof of his victory over a life-threatening disease with strong vocals and stage presence. We do not know if Luigi & the Wise Guys will return to the local stages, but these performances revisited a classic page from the history of New York club rock.