For Charles Otto and his band mates, every night on stage is something like Halloween.
Otto, front man for Talking Heads tribute act This Must Be the Band, is leading this year’s Halloween bash at Belly Up Aspen.
This Must Be the Band started by playing decidedly unglamorous gigs around their native Chicago in 2007 — bars, pizza joints and the like. The act caught on regionally, then — on a wave of Talking Heads interest from a new generation of fans — took hold nationally and in Colorado.
Otto borrowed the band’s name from the 1983 song “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” compiled the original lineup with musicians he found on Craigslist, and never expected to play more than a few Talking Heads gigs.
“I still only plan on playing one or two more shows, but people keep asking us to play so we keep saying, ‘yes,’” he explains.
He honed his performance of Heads front man David Byrne’s voice by singing along with their albums while he drove to and from work.
Cover bands for acts like Michael Jackson or the Grateful Dead have a built-in audience of notoriously fervent followers. Talking Heads, the artsy new wave band that was active from 1977 to 1991, isn’t as much of a no-brainer. However, with inescapable hits like “Burning Down the House,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Life During Wartime” and “Psycho Killer,” the shows are reliably crowd-pleasing.
Most of the fans coming out to see This Must Be the Band are a generation younger than those who saw the original band break out of New York 30-plus years ago. Today’s fans discovering Talking Heads are drawn to the music for the same reason as the originals, surmises Otto, who himself became a fan just two years before starting the tribute act.
“It just encourages people to be as weird as they are naturally,” Otto says. “So we get weirdos at these shows, and I mean that in the best way possible. Celebrating your own weirdness — I think that’s what Talking Heads are about.”
They’ve become regulars in Aspen, playing raucous shows packed with locals at Belly Up. They’ve re-staged the classic Heads concert movie, “Stop Making Sense,” and they’ve done an all-request show.
Otto, 29, says he had a stereotypical — and none too positive — idea of Aspen before his band started playing here.
“When I talk about going to Aspen, people are imagining a bunch of really rich, ski vacation snobs,” he says. “But really it’s just all the service industry people who are there just looking to party all night. My impression of Aspen has been a bunch of partying 20-somethings that aren’t interested in working a lot. So they’re a lot of fun and they’re crazy.”
Last summer, a stage-diver at one of their Belly Up shows broke an audience member’s collar bone — an accident that led to an arrest and a lawsuit.
“That doesn’t happen everywhere — it’s not a normal part of our shows,” says Otto.
Halloween around here has long been the local’s holiday — the high point of the fall off-season, when tourist traffic is light and the local party itch is ready to be scratched — so This Must Be the Band is a fitting outfit to provide the soundtrack.
At Thursday’s show, the Talking Heads set will be followed by a late night after-party performance by DJ noDJ, where Otto and band mates use live instruments to mimic the sound and non-stop music of an electronic DJ. Their repertoire includes a lot of Daft Punk and no breaks between songs. It’s a musical high wire act: They don’t use a set list. Instead, band members use musical cues to tip one another off on what song they want to transition into next.
As for the band’s costume, Otto is keeping it a secret until Thursday night.
“I don’t know if I can share that,” he says, “because that seems like the only surprise we have left. But we’re working really hard on a group costume.”
The Belly Up’s annual costume contest this year offers a $500 cash prize for first place, a $250 gift certificate to Matsuhisa for second place and $100 in concert tickets for third place.
Whether you’re planning to celebrate over the weekend, or on Halloween this Thursday, here are some highlights of night-time happenings in Aspen to plan your party calendar:
Saturday, Oct. 26
Local Artists Halloween Showcase at Belly Up Aspen. 9:30 p.m. No cover, if you wear a costume. $5 without a costume. www.bellyupaspen.com 
Escobar Halloween Party. Costumes are strongly encouraged. There will be prizes for best costume. First place: $200 cash, second place: free snowboard. Drink specials from 10 p.m. to midnight, sponsored by Pinnacle and Jim Beam. DJ Shake One for Denver will be spinning and playing videos all night long. www.escobaraspen.com 
Monster Ball. The Aspen Mother Puckers are hosting their fifth annual Monster Ball fundraiser at the Eagles Club, 700 E. Bleeker St. This Halloween costume party starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Get your tickets from your favorite Mother Pucker or email firstname.lastname@example.org . www.aspenmotherpuckers.com 
Wednesday, Oct. 30
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Screening of the cult classic at Belly Up Aspen. No cover. 7 p.m. www.bellyupaspen.com 
Thursday, Oct. 31
Sky Hotel Presents: The Wonderland Asylum Halloween Extravaganza. Sky Hotel and 39 Degrees Lounge have completed their renovation with a twisted “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired theme to match their lobby chairs. Staff and guests will come dressed in their favorite “Wonderland”-inspired costume with a bit of a spooky Sky Hotel edge. There will be no cover charge, but there will be drink specials and a live DJ. Guests can enjoy the party all night long, with a special room rate of $99, available only on Halloween night. 8 p.m. to midnight at The Sky Hotel and 39 Degrees Lounge. (970) 925-6760
Halloween Blowout with Sleight of Hand. 9 p.m. at Ryno’s Pies and Pints. Music by Sleight of Hand, food and drink specials. Costume contest with prizes awarded at 11 p.m. (970) 922-RYNO
Halloween with This Must Be the Band. $25. Talking Heads tribute band and costume contest. 10 p.m. at Belly Up Aspen. $25. After-party set by DJ noDJ. www.bellyupaspen.com