Former REM singer Michael Stipe plays surprise debut solo gig in New York – watch

Stipe played six-song set as support to Patti Smith

Former REM singer Michael Stipe played a surprise solo show in New York last night (December 29), for his first concert since REM split in 2011.

Stipe was the unannounced support act for his friend Patti Smith’s show at the city’s Webster Hall venue. Backed by two musicians during his six-song set, Stipe played keyboards – an instrument he rarely played live at REM’s concerts.

The show featured REM obscurities ‘New Test Leper’ from 1996’s album ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’ and ‘Saturn Return’ from 2001’s ‘Reveal’, plus four covers – late singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt’s ‘Lucinda Williams’; Patti Smith’s 1996 song ‘Wing’; Frank Sinatra’s standard ‘New York, New York’ and Perfume Genius’ 2012 single ‘Hood’. Fan footage of Stipe singing ‘New York, New York’ can be seen below.

Stipe has previously remained coy over his plans to return to music and has implied he’d rather stick to his work in photography and visual art than attempt a solo career, saying a solo album would “most likely be watered-down REM”. But in an interview with US TV channel CBS’ show ‘This Morning’ earlier this month (December 14), Stipe said: “I think I will sing again. Not soon, maybe. I don’t know.”

In the same interview, Stipe stated that REM will “never” reform. He said: “There’s no point. I love those guys very much. I respect them hugely as musicians and songwriters, but I just don’t want to do that thing that people do. I despise nostalgia. I’m not good at looking back.”

Stipe’s only new music since REM split has been the soundtrack for his friend Tom Gilroy’s film ‘The Cold Lands’. He said: “I’m happy with where it landed. It felt to me like a great first project.” His former bandmates Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry played an unannounced hometown show in Athens, Georgia in November 2013 to perform REM’s 1984 song ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville’, watched by Stipe from the audience.