WHEN WE TALK ABOUT psychedelic music, we often get caught up with the genre's "trippy" aspects: the bright colors worn by fans and artists, the disorienting guitar and keyboard effects, the long jam sessions, the hallucinogenic drugs that it's assumed everyone is inhaling by the truckload.
What tends to get pushed aside is the fact that, above all else, psychedelic groups historically were pop bands through and through. They could slap as much echo and neon-colored paint on the songs as they'd like, but without a catchy hook, no one would have given a shit.
That's what made the bands of the Paisley Underground so engaging during their '80s heyday. They made sure to emphasize the pop qualities of '60s touchstones like the Byrds, Love, and the Monkees, while simultaneously embracing psych rock's vivid atmospherics. And while some of the bands associated with the genre leaned harder in one direction—the Dream Syndicate skewed toward guitar freakouts, the Three O'Clock was all giggly bubblegum—the group that might have struck the perfect balance was Rain Parade.
Formed by Matt Piucci and brothers Steven and David Roback in the early '80s, Rain Parade was both jangly and zonked out, feathery and heavy. The titles of albums like 1983's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip and their final studio release, 1985's Crashing Dream, gave some indication of what was in store: You were going to get the highs, but you also needed to brace yourself for the comedowns.
With the huge exception of the Bangles, almost all of the acts associated with the Paisley Underground were considered cult bands, even as some found a measure of recognition overseas and got major label deals here in the States. That lack of success was at least part of the reason for Rain Parade's dissolution in 1986.
"It's such a racket," Piucci says, speaking on the phone from the back porch of his home outside Berkeley. "I'm glad I didn't get involved in it, to be honest with you. We did our thing for five years. I have so much respect for people like [Dream Syndicate leader] Steve Wynn and David [Roback] who've done it for years, but there's a cost to it as well."
Piucci has kept working over the past two decades, playing with the non-Neil Young version of Crazy Horse and projects with members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Still, he had to register some surprise when he started getting calls asking for Rain Parade to reunite in 2011.
"Miracle is perhaps a strong word," he says. "So many things can fall apart, but how many of them can come back together? It's quite rewarding to learn that people like this stuff and were even crazier about it than we were."
Like their Paisley Underground brethren, Rain Parade isn't an ongoing concern for everyone involved. Original members Piucci, Steven Roback, and John Thoman (David left the group in 1983) aren't working on new material, and will only play shows when it is financially feasible. Hence, their first show in Portland in 25 years is only happening because they are cruising up to Seattle to play the Hypnotikon psychedelic rock festival the next night.
"The struggle is organizational, not spiritual or musical," Piucci says. "Being involved in this again has been very healthy. I can't speak for everyone, but it's been great to get together again and play music. It's a very special thing."