Michael Stipe covered Ringo Starr, the Velvet Underground and Nat King Cole on Sunday during a brief live set as part of Pathway to Paris’ climate change benefit concert. Songwriter-producer Andy LeMaster joined the R.E.M. frontman on guitar and bass, while Pathway founder Jesse Paris Smith (daughter of rock icon Patti Smith) played the keyboard.
Stipe opened the set with a haunting rendition of Cole’s 1948 jazz-pop standard “Nature Boy,” crooning delicately over LeMaster’s stark guitar chords. He followed with a tease of Starr’s 1971 hit “It Don’t Come Easy” before interrupting himself and switching to the former Beatle’s 1973 classic, “Photograph.”
The singer recounted how the Starr’s songs reminded him of childhood. “I didn’t really have music in my home except for radio,” he said. “So there were certain songs that really got my attention … All my teachers growing up were hippies who then got jobs, and I was their student the first year they were actually doing a nine-to-five kinda thing. We got introduced to lots of amazing music.”
During his joyous run-through of “Photograph,” Stipe added odd percussive accents by stomping on the ground. “That’s why I never became a drummer,” he cracked mid-song, laughing at his own rhythmic shortcomings. LeMaster switched to bass for a spacey version of the Velvet Underground’s 1967 track “Sunday Morning,” during which Stipe waved around his arms like a psychedelic magician.
Patti Smith, Cat Power, Joan Baez and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea also performed at this year’s Pathway to Paris concert.