Be Your Own Pet
w/ Being Dead
The Blue Room at Third Man Records; Nashville, TN
September 16, 2023
Review by Philip Obenschain. Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
One of the most important and beloved bands in modern Nashville rock history, and also one that, for nearly 15 years, seemed among the least likely to ever return, garage punks Be Your Own Pet were still in their teens for most of their whirlwind their initial run, where, from 2004 to 2008, they went from a DIY local punk outfit to critical darlings, major festival performers, and icons of the indie sleaze era of the aughts. After an abrupt split in ’08, shortly after their resonant sophomore LP Get Awkward, BYOP’s members went on to pursue other projects (Turbo Fruits, JEFF the Brotherhood, Deluxin’, Public Access T.V., Sparkle City Disco, and Club Intl, among others), and over the years, seemed relegated to the 2000s indie rock history books, as there was never any sort of indication that they might make music together again. But then, out of nowhere, at the encouragement of Jack White, the group sprang back to life last year to support the Nashville-based rocker at a string of shows (including here in town at Ascend Amphitheater), as well as some more intimate one-offs around those dates. At the time, the band truly didn’t know what the future might hold beyond those performances, but quickly found magic once more, opting to turn it into a full-on reunion, first with the announcement of festival dates for 2023, then a new album- their first in 15 years- Mommy, out now through Third Man Records, and, in support, their first tour North American tour in just as long, set to kick off next month. Before that run though, and after the aforementioned Ascend show in support of Jack White, and a free pop-up performance at Soft Junk ahead of it last year, Be Your Own Pet fittingly played their first formal reunited hometown headliner at Third Man Records’ The Blue Room, along with Austin’s Being Dead! A show we’ve been dreaming of since before this site even began, BYOP picked things up in stunning, electrifying, nostalgic, and incredible fashion, living up to their legacy and proving that they are, still, one of the best Nashville groups to ever exist. Read on for our full review and photos!
I first arrived in Nashville in 2012, just a few years after Be Your Own Pet split. I’m their age, and was playing in bands at the same time in my home state of Virginia, so I’ve always been in awe of not only how successful they became so quickly, but also just how incredibly good they were so young. I never got to see the group live, and as much as I loved their records and have listened to them, and thought about them, and seen members’ subsequent projects, over the years, it never really even occurred to me that I ever would. They existed in that sweet spot where they were so young that the more time that passed, the less likely it seemed a priority to revisit, and also, while famous, not so famous that they’d ever get some lucrative, impossible to refuse offer to, like, headline Coachella, which has lured other bands into unlikely reunions. Thank God for Jack White though, and his personal connection to and genuine admiration for this band, as their reunion is sincerely one of the coolest things to happen to our local music scene in recent memory. I was gutted to be out of town last year when BYOP played Ascend and Soft Junk, and worried for awhile I’d missed my only chance. Thankfully, they’re really back though, and this Third Man performance had been one of my most-anticipated shows of the year from the moment it was announced (so much so that I skipped an entire festival to attend).
I got to The Blue Room early and was met by a crowd buzzing with excitement for what everyone seemed to sense was going to be something really, really special. It looked like a lot of friends and family were in attendance, but also surely plenty of folks like myself who’ve been waiting for more than a decade to finally see this band in person. In all of my excitement and nostalgically revisting Be Your Own Pet’s discography for weeks, I realized I hadn’t really checked out openers Being Dead, and the Austin-based trio didn’t disappoint. Harboring a bit more of laid back- but still energetic- indie sound than the evening’s headliners, with elements of surf rock, harmonic art pop, and more, the group’s vibes were immaculate, as they traded off instruments, cracked jokes, and hypnotized with their breezy, propulsive, earnest, and quirky songs. I noticed members of BYOP watching from the side of the stage, looking just as enthralled as the rest of us, and I found myself so wrapped up in this great opening set that I almost forgot about my anticipation for what was still to come. Needless to say, I immediately added Being Dead to my streaming queue after, and I’m excited to see them again whenever they make it back to Nashville.
Following a short introduction from Ben Swank- Jack White’s Third Man business partner and husband of Be Your Own Pet singer Jemina Pearl, who was also instrumental in encouraging the band’s return- we were treated to another surprise performance, from local film critic, podcaster, and spoken word performer Jason Shawhan, who, I believe was introduced under the alias Falconetti’s Face (and also donned a jacket with another alias, Hail Jason!). A spoken word performance at a punk show might sound like it would bring down the vibe, but Shawhan delivered a lengthy, witty, hilarious, and reference-laden story about applying for a job at a SpaceX type company, interspersed with personal anecdotes, pop culture references, and heartfelt musings. He had the audience laughing, cheering, and hanging on every word, and his gift for oration is so impressive that his performance felt right at home in the middle of a rock show.
The Blue Room was filled shoulder to shoulder when Be Your Own Pet finally took the stage, and from the second they launched into “Thresher’s Flail,” the opening track from their debut album, it was clear that they were picking up exactly where they left off 15 years ago, with all of the intensity, punk spirt, and unpredictability of their youth captured in such an authentic and sincere way after all this time. I knew this band had a reputation for being great, and I’ve seen proof in members’ various other post-BYOP projects, but this show exceeded my expectations in every way, and was easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, among 100s and 100s, in more than a decade of living in Nashville. Seriously, this band is unreal, and their old songs still rip so unbelievably hard. Jemina Pearl- who’s been less active in music than her bandmates in recent years- is an absolute force to be reckoned with; she’s incredibly gifted vocalist, but in addition to that she’s a frenetic, raucous, rock and roll force, rolling around the stage, interacting with the crowd, and performing with a wild, incredible, one of a kind magnetism. And the charisma with her bandmates- guitarist Jonas Stein, who balanced things out with levity and heart; bassist Nathan Vasquez, who captured the group’s punk bona fides and chaotic performance style; and drummer John Eatherly, who’s had the most successful post-BYOP musical career, and seems to be the laid back foundation- is so palpable and magical that you’d never know they’d spit for so many years.
Be Your Own Pet certainly aren’t the only band of 30-somethings performing songs they wrote as teens and early 20-somethings, but the 15 year gap between the style and thematic focus of those songs, and the new material from Mommy, really made for an interesting dichotomy. The new stuff fits right alongside their classics sonically, if a bit informed and honed by their experience in other projects since, and almost felt in conversation between teenage abandon and naiveté of the older material and the wisdom and self-reflection of aging with the new, a fact highlighted in the first new tune that made an appearance, “Goodtime!,” after throwing it back to a sophomore album fave, the propulsive “Super Soaked.” So many of the band’s old songs- “Fuuuuuun,” “Food Fight,” “Wildcat!”- clock it at under 90 seconds, and really showcase Be Your Own Pet’s most punk tendencies, with gang vocals, fast riffs, head banging energy, and changes for Jemina to roman the stage, roll on the floor, and deliver with both incredible vocal control and while intensity like few singers can.
After a stretch of songs from their first two records (including another of my favorites, “Black Hole”), the band invited Blair Tramel from local punk outfit Snooper, on stage, to share vocals with Pearl on a fun cover of DEVO’s “Girl U Want,” before speaking a bit more about Mommy, the unlikely reunion, and everyone who supported and made it possible, then playing nearly half the album in one run. Singles “Worship the Whip” and “Hand Grande” were definitely two standouts and both feel like a nod to the band’s bast, but I actually really enjoyed hearing them push their style into the present with tracks like “Rubberist” and “Pleasure Seeker” as well, which both feel at place with the BYOP’s vibe, but also aren’t beholden to nostalgia, and really soar live; slightly slower, more vibey, and a showcase of where the band’s strongest talents lie in 2023. By this portion of the show (really, from note one), it was clear we were witnessing something extraordinarily special, and everyone in the room looked elated, and yet, somehow, for the final run of songs they managed to crank it up another notch. From dance punk-leaning “We Will Vacation, You Can Be My Parasol,” infectiously catchy breakout “The Kelly Affair,” perhaps their best-known and most sing-along primed single “Becky” (which took on a lot more intensity live), to fast-paced “Girls on TV,” the band took us on a victory lap of some of their best classic material, before a killer cover of Misfits’ “Attitude” and absolutely bringing the house down with set closer singalong “Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle.”
My head was still spinning and my smile frozen in place from how insane and perfect and punk rock the performance was, when Be Your Own Pet remerged for a cover of The Damned’s classic “Neat Neat Neat,” before ending the night with Mommy closer “Teenage Heaven,” for my money one of the best and most unique songs they’ve ever written, and one of their most earnest, hypotonic, and lush. There was definitely something fitting and perfect about beginning the show with the first song from their first album, and ending with the last song of their latest, and everything in between was just a stunning, pitch-perfect distillation of what makes Be Your Own Pet one of the greatest- if not the greatest- Nashville bands of all time. And after all these years, after this reunion I never expected to see, they’re every bit as important, phenomenal, and relevant, and one of the most incredible live bands in the world. I don’t know what BYOP’s future holds, and I’m not sure they do either, but whether this is a for now thing or a forever thing, I’m so thankful to have this band back.
All photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Girl U Want (DEVO cover)
Worship the Whip
We Will Vacation, You Can Be My Parasol
The Kelly Affair
Girls on TV
Attitude (Misfits cover)
Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle
Neat Neat Neat (The Damned cover)