Walk the grounds of the Stanley Hotel before one of Murder by Death’s annual winter shows. A ghostly stillness will chill your bones. Frigid winds will greet you, along with a buzz of anticipation from the gothic-Americana band’s fans, who come from all over the world to see the group at the reputedly haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
“We’re definitely doing this again next year,” said frontman Adam Turla, dressed in a vintage black tuxedo, early in his band’s two-hour Friday-night kickoff of a three-night run. Coincidentally, it was not only Friday the thirteenth, but also a full moon. The spooky Estes Park setting — with most in attendance dolled up in formal attire to re-create the iconic ballroom photo from Stanley Kubrick's film version of The Shining — could not have been more perfect for Murder by Death’s fourth-annual Stanley stint, when wandering the infamous old hotel in search of spirits, whether alcoholic or non-corporeal, is as much a thrill as the music.
Turla said that Murder by Death, which in 2014 became the first rock band ever to play the Stanley, rehearsed 52 songs for this year’s performances. Friday's, which was very loud and often brought a punk-rock intensity to the group's grim, poetic Americana, was full of deep cuts. The 26-song set featured the live debut of “Oh, To Be an Animal,” from 2012’s Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The quintet’s fiercely loyal fans sang along, word for word, with a few dusted-off fifteen-year-old obscurities that Turla said the bandmembers had had to relearn to perform.
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As in past years at the act's Stanley shows, it was more of a glass-raising, fist-pumping sing-a-long than a dance party. But that didn’t take away from the energy, which peaked with the jam-packed crowd screaming along to the line “Raise another pint,” from the song “Brother,” and, of course, “Spirits are restless/Can’t you hear them yell?” from “The Curse of Elkhart.”
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Turla, saluting the lack of snow that made the journey to Estes Park easier than in some previous years, told the audience, “We didn’t know if anyone would drive all the way up here [the first year]. This is literally the most fun thing we do every year. I love it up here, and it’s a dangerous proposition every year."
After the set, Turla and the rest of the band hung out with fans in the Stanley’s whiskey bar, past 2 a.m. The singer, whose thick voice and black attire make him seem like a smaller Johnny Cash on stage, said that the band has no plans to record an eighth album in the near future and that, in fact, he’s busy working toward opening a restaurant in Kentucky with his wife.
As for Murder by Death’s exceptional fans, who raised an astonishing $278,486 on Kickstarter for the group’s latest album, 2015's Big Dark Love, and who travel — from the Stanley, to a cave in Kentucky, to a Wild West film set in California — to see the group perform, Turla was succinct in his praise.
“They’re amazing people,” he said, holding a book an admirer had just given him at the bar. “Some of them can drink a little too much, but they’re amazing people, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”