Michael Stipe did his first real solo shows since the breakup of R.E.M. in New York City last week, playing brief, unannounced sets opening for punk icon Patti Smith at two concerts in celebration of Smith’s 68th birthday.
As Smith’s fans were still assembling into the 1,500 capacity Webster Hall on Monday, Dec. 29th, Stipe surprised everyone by shuffling onstage, accompanied by two other musicians (including Smith’s daughter Jesse on keyboards), for a six-song set consisting of a mix of covers and R.E.M. material including Vic Chesnutt’s “Lucinda Williams,” “New York, New York,” Perfume Genius’ “Hood,” Smith’s “Wing” and the R.E.M. songs “Saturn Return” (from 2001’s Reveal) and “New Test Leper” (from 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi).
The following night, which was Smith’s actual birthday, she headlined a second night at the venue, and Stipe again opened with the same set. He and others, including Jesse, brought out a birthday cake midway during her performance to sing “Happy Birthday” to her, and later accompanied Smith and band during their encore.