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In Allston, Paper packs in a new crowd

Sara Barr, of Boston, center, dances with someone she just meet at Paper held Thurdays at Harper's Ferry in Allston.
Sara Barr, of Boston, center, dances with someone she just meet at Paper held Thurdays at Harper's Ferry in Allston. (Globe photo/Wiqan Ang)

Ask local club kids where they go to hear hot indie music and, until recently, Harpers Ferry wouldn't have made the list. The Allston venue, for years a blues and roots club, has lately been home to adoring tribute acts and vaguely psychedelic jam bands.

On a recent Thursday night, however, the kids in line outside Harpers looked less like refugees from a moe. concert and more like the urbane rock crowd that frequents Great Scott, the indie-rock hot spot just a few blocks away.

They were there for Paper, a club night featuring edgy bands, DJs, and the work of visual artists. The night has its own MySpace site (which is, by now, almost obligatory) that invites music fans who've probably never set foot inside the blues club: indie kids, goths, new wavers, ravers, glamazons, and others too risque to mention here.

Paper is merely the most obvious change taking place at Harpers Ferry, as the club gets a makeover to better compete in a booming Allston rock scene. The charge was led first by Great Scott, which has exploded from sleepy neighborhood bar to major player on the indie scene, booking buzzy underground acts and bands on the verge. Now other clubs in the neighborhood are getting polished up too, and are booking with an eye toward more diverse crowds.

''People go to the same club night every week and see the same people, the same music," says Paper promoter Andrew Riker, 19. ''With this they can go somewhere familiar and be surprised each week."

So far, so successful. The first night, at the beginning of January, Paper drew 170 attendees. Within a few weeks, the 400-capacity club was selling out. Tonight, New York dance rockers Group Sounds and Boston power-pop quintet On the Surface perform.

Lest anyone mistake Riker for a bling-laden music business whiz kid, he's quick to point out that he spends much of his time on more pedestrian pursuits. He works 30 hours a week at Ikea in Stoughton. He attends Massasoit Community College in Brockton.

''I'm switching majors all the time," he says. But Riker's adamant that he wants a career in the music business. He sees Paper as one way in.

Riker, a Halifax native, got his start in promotions working with MassLive Events, which books punk, emo, and hardcore gigs at Allston's International Community Church and Jackson Mann Center.

The overhaul at the club began in June with the installation of general manager Andrew Wolan. Then the backstage area and the stage were refitted and the sound system improved. Next, the lights will be updated. The interior and facade are to be redone by spring, all without closing the doors.

''This is a great venue; it deserves it," says band booker Dan Millen. ''All of this is long overdue, and we are so excited to have a new range of possibilities."

With a new core team of 20-somethings running the show, the hope is to connect with a broader, hipper audience while still satisfying current patrons.

''The bottom line," says Millen, ''is that we are a business. But at the same time, we want to do our part to revitalize the Allston rock scene. Nights like Paper are a big step toward that."

The next Allston club to get a makeover might be Great Scott's sister venue O'Brien's, which is known as a gritty punk bar. In November, Martin Doyle, a veteran Boston booker, took over as general manager, and Great Scott promotions manager Ben Sisto took on double duty handling both venues. Though little change is evident on the club's calendar, the aim for O'Brien's ''is to have a more diverse selection of bands and cross-communication between the venues," says Carl Lavin, music booker for Great Scott.

Is the Great Scott organization feeling the pinch from Paper?

''I don't think in terms of competition," says Lavin. ''It's not an idealistic thing. I just think that the more people involved in doing a good job in getting music out to people, the better. If there are a thousand people in Allston who are really into music, why not turn that into 5,000? Then everyone's room will be full."