Not counting oddities such as “Bugs” and “Push Me Pull Me”, “No Way” is by far one of the most underplayed Pearl Jam songs at live concerts. Performed only three times, all during encores between August 25th and September 7th of 1998, “No Way” has been a curious absence from the live experience. Perhaps confusion over the lyric, “I’ll stop trying to make a difference”, even though it’s negated immediately by “No way”, has kept the song from bridging, let’s say, “Grievance” and “Marker in the Sand” on stage, two examples of songs by a band that very much desires to make a difference.
On a full-length album, the song marks the first vocal performance by Vedder of a song written entirely by one of his bandmates, in this case Stone Gossard. To this day it’s still one of his best. It’s one thing to sing a cover of a beloved song by an idol or even a contemporary. In such cases (ideally) there’s a choice to perform that song over all others that’s born from a real connection with its sound and lyric. With a bandmate’s song, something that is going to represent your group to the world more than say, “Gremmie Out of Control”, the stakes are higher, and getting into the words can be more of a challenge.
Increasingly throughout four albums, Vedder’s lyrical and vocal talents became the band for a lot of people, for better or worse. And though all of the other band members had rich and involved musical histories, for Gossard or Ament to present their lyrics for Ed to sing had to have been daunting. Yield represented a determined effort to reestablish a more democratic Pearl Jam, which necessitated that completed, fully-fleshed out songs (including lyrics) be brought to the table by all members as often as possible, eliminating the need for Vedder to finish other people’s work. By all accounts, Yield was an important turning point for the band in this regard. And “No Way”, despite its miniscule live representation, reflects this renewed sense of unity and purpose.
In a way, Gossard’s lyrics appear to be directly about the band’s recent struggles: “Here’s a token of my openness / Of my need to not disappear.” As message to the band? To Ed? Something else entirely? Regardless, Vedder lends the song intensity, humor, and nuance in his vocal performance. His delivery of “All the static / In my attic-a / Shoots down my side nerve” is delightfully strange, and he strikes just the right combination of confidence and vulnerability in the prechoruses, “I just need someone to be there for me.” Gossard’s music is low-key and funky, recalling some of the band’s early focus on groove-oriented songwriting. The breakdown at the three-quarter mark is one of the band’s strangest moments on record, the song dissolving into strands before reconfiguring for the coda. “No Way” sounds effortlessly fun, which, combined with its catchiness and potential as a launch-point for extended jamming, puts it near the top of my list of songs I wish the band would bring back to the stage.