When Michael Stipe appeared on CBS This Morning earlier in the month and said, “I think I’ll sing again,” he didn’t just mean The Colbert Report‘s all-star swan song. The former R.E.M. frontman has performed only rarely since his hugely influential indie-alternative band called it quits three years ago, but last night he made an unannounced appearance as the opener for Patti Smith at New York’s Webster Hall. As Slicing Up Eyeballs reports, Stipe accompanied himself on keyboard, with two other backup musicians, and he chose quite the six-song set list.
Most striking were Stipe’s picks for covers. Seattle-hailing singer/songwriter project Perfume Genius recently issued the masterful Too Bright, which claimed spots on our year-end album and songs lists; Stipe sang “Hood,” a poignant, exquisitely crafted premonition from 2012′s Put Your Back N 2 It. He also covered Smith’s “Wing,” a stripped-down heart-tugger from 1996′s Gone Again, and the late Athens, Georgia singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt‘s harrowing alt-country name-check “Lucinda Williams,” from 1991′s West of Rome, along with “Theme from ‘New York, New York’” — yes, the one sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.
As for R.E.M. songs, Stipe reached back for “Saturn Return,” the effects-encircled piano-ballad centerpiece from 2001′s Reveal, and “New Test Leper,” a subtle, miscommunication- and religion-themed strummer from 1996′s New Adventures in Hi-Fi that Stipe once linked, in a 1998 VH1 Storytellers performance, to both Chesnutt and Smith (she later covered the song, at a 2009 R.E.M. tribute concert).
Also on CBS This Morning, Stipe ruled out an R.E.M. reunion, saying, “There would be no point.” The band recently released its REMTV DVD box set, and Stipe has written thoughtful essays about everything from 9/11 to his coming out 20 years ago. In June, Stipe shared his first new music since R.E.M.’s breakup, though it was only instrumental.
Watch and listen to the available clips from last night’s performance below.
Michael Stipe setlist, Webster Hall, New York, NY (12/29/14)
1. “Lucinda Williams” (Vic Chesnutt)
2. “Theme From ‘New York, New York’”
3. “Wing” (Patti Smith)
4. “Saturn Return” (R.E.M.)
5. “Hood” (Perfume Genius)
6. “New Test Leper” (R.E.M.)
“New Test Leper” and “Saturn Return” (R.E.M.)
“Theme From ‘New York, New York’”
“Hood” (Perfume Genius)
Michael Stipe, “New Test Leper” (R.E.M.)
Michael Stipe, “Lucinda Williams” (Vic Chesnutt)