Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s most recent album arrived in 2013. “Specter at the Feast” was the seventh release from the California-based trio founded by schoolmates Robert Been and Peter Hayes. Its bracing alt-rock was acclaimed as a peak effort by journalists and fans, but its title became more appropriate than originally designed. The bounty of BRMC’s enduring success was accompanied by unsettling events.
In 2014, hard-hitting drummer Leah Shapiro found herself physically incapable of performing. She was diagnosed with Chiari malformations, defects in the cerebellum requiring surgery. Shapiro went public on BRMC’s Facebook page, telling fans, “As you can imagine, I’m hardly looking forward to having my skull cracked open and my brain operated on, but it’s the only thing that’s going to help me get better.” She concluded with the determination to rejoin her bandmates as soon as possible.
Following months of physical therapy, Shapiro built methodically toward resuming performance with BRMC. “It was three months before I could even touch the drums,” she says. “My drum rehabilitation plan took a little over four weeks, starting with five minutes a day. Getting back together with the guys and playing with the sheer volume was another part of the process. At first, it was like getting hit very hard in the back of the head with a bat.”
The band’s return to action came at Germany’s Southside Festival last summer. “I was nervous as all hell, to be honest,” says Shapiro, laughing. “But I really needed to do it.”
Now, Shapiro’s playing is as muscular as ever. The band has made progress on a new album, and may offer a treat for fans on tour. “We might try out some new stuff,” she says.
BRMC’s catalog includes songs like “Generation” with a political bent. The band’s month-long tour crosses the US during fever pitch of a divisive election season. Events can’t help but creep into the set list, or possibly the new material. “I’m sure we’ll be playing ‘U.S. Government,’” says Shapiro. “You reflect what you see. Whether or not a song is directly written about a particular experience, everything that goes on in the world and our lives has an impact.”
Shapiro cites the band’s cover of The Call’s “Let the Day Begin” as a valuable political statement, noting the unexpected characterization for a song full of optimism. “Things now are very heavy, and pretty damn scary,” she says. “Those words give us a good place to go in the midst of all this chaos.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.