The Mountain Goats are one of those bands who can make a dozen albums and yet pass undetected by even dedicated music followers. Live appearances on this side of the Atlantic – main man John Darnielle resides in North Carolina - have been rare, so it's lucky that he's chosen to play Islington's spectacular Union Chapel this time. It's part of a Pineapple Folk Christmas show, along with Emmy the Great, Alasdair Roberts and headliner Micah P Hinson.

The rarity of the band's appearances and the majestic intimacy of the venue mean that the atmosphere inside the chapel is electric with anticipation. Darnielle appears on stage with current sidekick Peter Hughes, and they open their accounts with 'Wild Sage' and 'Tollund Man', two quieter songs that slowly work their way around the cracks and crevices of the old church, leaking into the woodwork and insinuating themselves in the minds of the audience.

Darnielle's lyrics take in small town stories and epic fantasies, and all the places in between. A literate band, the Mountain Goats wear their nerdiness on their sleeves, and Darnielle and Hughes certainly fit the part, dress-wise, tonight. A couple of new songs see the two unlikely guitar heroes kick the pace up a notch to clear the air and shake some more excitement into the crowd.

There's a fair mix of songs – with such a huge back catalogue to choose from, every Mountain Goats set must be a strange grab-bag of old songs, new songs and songs in-between that happen to fit. The duo manage to make it look both polished and spontaneous, and Darnielle certainly seems to be enjoying himself.

At the end of the show, Darnielle asks whether "Eddie" is in the crowd. 'Eddie' turns out to be Eddie Argos from Art Brut, who reluctantly but gamely joins the duo for a jaunty rendition of the excellently titled 'Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton'.

It's a populist set, crowd pleasing in the standard sense, but also in Darnielle's sheer ability to give a desirous audience exactly what they want. And although the crowd were on his side from the beginning – before that, even, from the time they were queueing outside in the drizzle – everyone leaves happy, including John Darnielle and Peter Hughes, who are, if anything, even happier to be have played here tonight than the audience.

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