Michael Stipe Returns to Stage as Patti Smith's Surprise Opening Act

Singer takes on R.E.M. songs, covers in first substantial live appearance in almost four years

Michael Stipe performed a surprise set opening for Patti Smith in New York. Credit: John Medina/WireImage

In an interview with CBS This Morning in early-December, Michael Stipe proclaimed, "I think I'll sing again." Stipe had only made a few appearances behind the microphone since R.E.M. disbanded in 2011, but at Patti Smith's concert at New York's Webster Hall Monday night, Stipe served as the surprise opening act, delivering his first substantial performance in nearly four years and making his debut as a solo artist.

Stipe's six-song set was mixed with R.E.M. songs and unlikely covers. Stipe opened up with a rendition of Vic Chesnutt's "Lucinda Williams" before launching into the "Theme From 'New York, New York'." Stipe, who performed on keyboards for the performance, next shared his version of Smith's "Wing," which was followed by R.E.M.'s Reveal cut "Saturn Return" and a surprise cover of Perfume Genius' 2012 single "Hood."

"Patti asked me to talk a lot so that I could take up some time," Stipe joked before closing out his unannounced set with "New Test Leper" off R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Check out audio of the performance courtesy of Slicing Up Eyeballs.

After Stipe revealed that he planned on singing again in the CBS This Morning interview, the former R.E.M. frontman added "Not soon." "I love my voice and I think it's still… I think it actually got better as I got older," Stipe said. "I sing in the shower. And I'm not bad. You would be surprised at my playlist."

The set marked Stipe's first significant live public performance since he made a cameo at the 12-12-12 benefit concert at New York's Madison Square Garden to sing "Everybody Hurts" alongside Coldplay's Chris Martin. Smith will perform again Tuesday night at Webster Hall, though there's no word yet whether Stipe will appear.