(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Stephin Merritt, last seen getting the Katie Lazarus treatment at Joe’s Pub, kicked off a rare solo tour in Philadelphia on Saturday. Since the Magnetic Fields frontman and onetime Luckiest Boy on the Lower East Side doesn’t yet have an NYC show slated, we traipsed down to Union Transfer, the Bowery Presents venue inside of a former train depot in Philly, to see what he had up his sleeve. Or, under his pageboy cap.

In the vein of his book of two-letter words illustrated by New Yorker doodler Roz Chast, the laconic baritone ran through 26 songs, one for each letter of the alphabet. As he strummed a ukulele with Magnetic Fields cellist Sam Davol at his side, the crowd sat in such rapt silence that, for once, hardly a single camera phone went up throughout the hour-long show. Here’s what he played, with spiel.

“Good evening, ho ho… I will do my best this evening to avoid doing Tim Curry impersonations*. I can’t promise anything.”
1. Andrew in Drag

2. The Book of Love

3. Chicken With Its Head Cut Of

“This is a spiritual song about what happens to us all when we die, i.e. nothing.”
4. The Dead Only Quickly Decay

“So, I read that Throwing Muses had two songs with the same title, ‘Hate My Way’ and ‘Hate My Way,’ and they just played them back to back in order and that was the song, so I did the same thing with this song.”
5. Epitaph for My Heart

“So this song is from a science fiction musical that has yet to be produced that Daniel Handler and I have been writing since 1999.”
7. Forever and a Day

“So how about that swinging London and its intense misogyny. ‘Mary Quant practices what she preaches.'”**
8. Give Me Back My Dreams

“These songs are in alphabetical order, for those of you who are insufficiently autistic to have realized that. And this is therefore the only song from the album ‘I.’ It’s a true song.”
9. I Wish I Had an Evil Twin

“This song is not at all true.”
10. Josephine

“Here’s another spiritual.”
11. Kiss Me Like You Mean It

“We’re Stephin Merritt and he’s Sam Davol.”
12. Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin

“I don’t have a television so when I am exposed to television I have no immunity. So one afternoon I was sitting in a gay bar trying not to watch the television, which had captions. We weren’t hearing the sounds but we were seeing the captions, and if you put something in front of me I’ll read it so I can’t not look at captions. And that is how I learned about the woman whose husband died and turned out to have another apartment in the city, which prompted this song.”
13. My Husband’s Pied-a-Terre
“I added the murder part. It needed an ending.”

14. The Nun’s Litany

“So, I wrote an off-Broadway musical of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and it ends (um, spoiler alert) with the mice singing. And mice, as you know, tend to lisp.”
15. One Long Fairy Tail

“This is a parody of an Irving Berlin song that only I seem to know anyway.”
16. A Pretty Girl Is Like…

17. Quick!

18. Reno Dakota

“This song is called ‘Shipwrecked’ but I think of it as ‘Trainwreck’ for reasons you are probably about to understand.”
19. Shipwrecked

20. This Little Ukulele

“This is from my Hans Christian Anderson musical, everyone writes one. If not, you just haven’t written one yet.
21. The Ugly Little Duck

“It occurs to me to mention that I wrote a book and it’s for sale in the lobby. And it’s 101 two-letter words.”
22. Very Funny

“And now for something completely different, an uplifting number from ‘Future Bible Heroes’ — uplifting if you believe the lyrics. But I guess ‘Very Funny’ is only depressing if you believe the lyrics.”
23. The World Is a Disco Ball

“I heard today that Joni Mitchell is not in a coma but BB King is in hospice.”
24. Xylophone Track

“Well, we’ve come to the letter Y, which being the last letter of the alphabet means we’ll play our last song.”
25. Your Girlfriend’s Face

26. Zombie Boy

Again, as of now, Merritt doesn’t have any local shows planned — hopefully that’ll change, but in the meantime you can catch him in Annandale-on-Hudson, near his current home in Hudson, NY, on June 24.

*As part of the opening act, the Secret Cinema screened Tim Curry’s “Paradise Garage” video.

**They also played a short, “Girls in Short, Short Dresses,” featuring miniskirt pioneer Mary Quant.