After headlining the John Peel stage at Glastonbury on Sunday night The National made the short trip up the M5 to Birmingham one of the few dates interspersing the band's festival appearances this summer.
Whilst not quite a sell-out, the venue was nicely filled. First up was the support slot, a performance by Welsh singer-songwriter Caroline Martin which was both poignant and eerily powerful. The National are big fans of her work and from tonight's performance it's easy to see why.
The National came on stage at just after 9pm and started the night with 'Start A War' and 'Brainy' from the Boxer album. One of the great things about the band's live performances is that the songs often seem to breathe a little more freely when released from the tighter constraints of the album format. Tonight that is especially visible on the more restrained of The National's back catalogue, Slow Show then Squalor Victoria and Racing Like A Pro make a great transformation to the live arena.
As well as ten tracks from the Boxer album there's also a good selection of songs from the band's earlier album 'Alligator', Secret Meeting and Baby, We'll Be Fine are both well received by tonight's audience and Matt Berninger's powerful baritone vocals fill the venue with relative ease.
The band finish the main slot with Mistaken for Strangers and Fake Empire, the former excels in the live format, Fake Empire struggles to convey the subtle emotion of the recorded version but such details are of little interest to an appreciative audience.
The band come back onstage for a four song encore which proves to be the highlight of tonight's show. For the first song, Caroline Martin returns to the stage to perform Without Permission, which The National covered on their recent Virginia EP. The performance is incredibly captivating, with Matt and Caroline's vocals complementing each other to great effect.
Finishing with Green Gloves and finally Mr November, The National leave on a high with Matt Berninger throwing first his microphone stand and then himself into the front of the audience.