WORLD TOUR 2008-2009

Concert at the Bislett Stadium
Oslo, Norway, July 1, 2008

Text by Ali Eklöf
Photos by Jarkko Arjatsalo

Having been a devotee of Leonard´s music since my early youth, it was clear that I had to get tickets for an event already early on in the tour. Oslo seemed like a good choice being attainable by boat and car from Finland. I had obtained tickets through the internet for the event on the very first date that ticket sales opened, but was a bit disappointed to obtain tickets no closer than on row 9 on the side of the stage. I bought them none the less.

I had no idea what to expect of the Bislett stadium, but I had imagined something of medium size indoors. As it turned out, the Bislett is a huge football-type arena outdoors, close to downtown Oslo. Our seats were relatively far from stage and on the side. Those in the audience who were smart and who came early, took seat right in front of the stage, where all the seats were unmarked, and thus up for grabs for anyone. We came early, but being Finns (Finns generally don´t improvise much and we are usually law-abiding and might I add in Leonard´s words “solemn”), we sat down on the seats that had been designated for us.

Although the arena doors opened as early as 5 pm, it was not before 8 pm that “our man” entered stage, met by standing ovations. It was a great moment, the audience was so happy to see Leonard after so many years that it felt like a true home-coming. Cohen was clearly moved by the welcome he received and smiled radiantly. It was Canada´s National day on July 1 st and Norway´s and Canada´s flags had been raised side by side on the far end of the stadium. Cohen also enjoyed this gesture and expressed his gratitude. After saying a few words of thanks he started Dance me to the end of Love.
Javier Mas (sitting) and Dino Soldo.
Rafael Gayol and Bob Metzger.
Roscoe Beck and Leonard.
Neil Larsen.

Leonard´s voice was in great shape, the band was playing beautifully and after singing a few songs Leonard again addressed the crowd about flags. This time there were two people in the audience waving the Canadian flags and Cohen said something like “I could just stand here watching those flags, in fact, let´s just stop for a while… or no, let´s not stop” and then he continued singing. Once Leonard also addressed someone who apparently was on all fours in front of the stage, and Leonard looked at him smiling saying something like “what are you doing there… don´t get me wrong, it´s perfectly fine with me”.

There were also many other moments, when Leonard expressed his famous wit, which I will try to relate as I remember them. He told us how he had spent last night at the Grand hotel under “extremely luxurious circumstances, alone”. From the balcony he had been watching a “golden statue” of Henrik Ibsen, the great Norwegian playwright. As it turned out it was a street artist standing perfectly still.

Leonard was greatly impressed by the control and skill of the artist, and asked everyone in the audience to drop him a coin should we see him. Leonard appeared to be in a great mood, many times getting ovations just for smiling so happily in the way we all love. Once Leonard carefully picked up a flower from the audience and held it throughout the next song. Someone also gave him a bracelet of beads, which he put on his arm. Before the song In my Secret Life Leonard thanked Sharon Robinson for their fruitful cooperation giving also an example of their collaboration. “Once I told Sharon that I am starting to have a drinking problem, as a result she came up with elements for That don´t make it Junk”.

It has to be said that also technically the sound was very good and the two big high-definition screens on both sides of the stage giving close-ups of Cohen added very much to the experience. Still, at the intermission, we decided to leave our seats and along with a big portion of the previously seated audience we went to stand on the outside of the area of unmarked seats in front of stage, at the running track which goes around the perimeter of the stadium.

The second set starting with Tower of Song was a high-light, as Leonard stood before his key-board and said something like “don´t know if you have seen one of these before, but do not fear, it works all by itself”. Then he switched on the machine, which started to play the baseline rhythm from Tower of Song. Leonard actually playing only a few notes during the entire song was like the epitome of a Buddhist coan; there was nothing to add and nothing to take away. Absolutely beautiful. Spirits were high all over the audience. I remember having tears in my eyes on several occasions, I remember laughing at the brilliant lyrics voiced by the poet himself, I remember singing along with so many others on Hallelujah.

Charley Webb (guitar) and Hattie Webb (harp)
doing "If it be your will".
Sharon Robinson and Neil Larsen are
back on "Boogie Street"

Leonard dedicated Take this Waltz to “a dear friend of mine, the great poet Axel Jensen who passed away a few years ago. He was also Marianne´s husband”. As I´ve read, Marianne herself was also in the Oslo audience, so along with So long Marianne, this must have been a very special moment for her. For me personally, Leonard´s recitation and the Web Sisters´ angelic version of If it be your Will summed up the sacredness of the evening.

We had been very lucky that the weather was good all the evening of the concert. Towards the end though, it had started to become a little chilly, and Leonard´s final words during Wither thou Goest were appropriate, when he begged us to drive home safely and take care so as not to catch a summer cold.

Leonard sometime in his early seeking days defined the “state of grace” as being a condition when one is like an escaped ski, hurling down the slope of life, effortlessly yet safely meeting the bumps as they come. Today Cohen is the embodiment of that awareness, seeing the sacred in every moment and enjoying the ride immensely. Happy to be travelling with you Leonard, we love you!

- Ali Eklöf

Text © 2008 Ali Eklöf. Photos © 2008 Jarkko Arjatsalo.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Audience reports here at the Forum
TV news clip: Leonard singing "Dance me..", interview with Marianne
More about the concert also in Marie's media report