Surprise: R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe duets with Coldplay’s Chris Martin at 12-12-12 benefit

It took a storm for Michael Stipe to temporarily step out of R.E.M. retirement. The former frontman made a surprise appearance at the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief concert with Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Martin first performed a solo “Viva La Vida” on acoustic guitar for the crowd at New York’s Madison Square Garden before welcoming Stipe to the stage. The pair then played “Losing My Religion,” a sweet sound to R.E.M. fans’ ears who have been suffering since the band called it quits last year. Stipe sang while Martin strummed his acoustic, dotting in some harmonies.

Martin finished his set alone again with “Us Against the World.”

Telethoners were surprised by the appearance, with anchor Brian Williams even admitting that some organizers didn’t know about the addition.

Other combos from the night were more readily apparent, like Eddie Vedder with Roger Waters and Bon Jovi with Bruce Springsteen. Paul McCartney performing with the living members of Nirvana was one of the worst-kept secrets earlier in the day.

Organizers hoped for an audience of 2 billion, and millions of dollars are expected to be raked in from the concert effort.

Meanwhile, Stipe was pulling double duty on 12/12, as he sang a Christmas tune “Good King Wenceslas” with Stephen Colbert and Mandy Patinkin on “The Colbert Report,” taped earlier in the evening. The R.E.M. singer has been occasionally sitting in on the show (so to speak) since the band busted-up, hardly saying a word when he made his cameos. Colbert was also a presenter at the Sandy benefit concert.

Check out Fuse’s interview with Stipe on his brief return below.