Warren Zevon has trouble holding onto a melody even within the safe confines of his narrow singing range. His current band is as plodding as a pack-mule team. Many of Zevon's songs tend toward macho fantasies and sophomoric symbolism.Yet some of his songs display a real flair for wit and extravagant storytelling. Zevon's zealous yelp on these latter songs salvaged an otherwise embarrassing show at Lisner Auditorium last night.

Zevon proved better at humor than at pathos. The exaggerated bad taste of "Excitable Boy" and "Poor Poor Pitiful me" was refreshing, as was the ode to baseball pitcher Bill Lee. By contrast, Zevon's references to drugs and guns in "carmelita" and "Jungle Work" came off as cheap slumming. On the latter song, he donned combat fatigues and pantomimed a guerrilla firefight under strobe lights. The effect was more silly than scary. Even sillier was Zevon's attempt to imitate a leaping, prancing Mick Jagger.

The Catfish Hodge Band has seldom sounded as good as it did in last night's opening set. The current membership of Hodge's septet has jelled into a tight unit with several outstanding soloists. On Hodge's "Black Cadillac," Jimmy Powers shaped harmonica notes as if he were playing jazz fluegel-horn, and Mitch Collins overlapped electric piano phrases as if they were rain falling on an already wet window.

The band encored with Little Feat's "Put On Your Sailing Shoes," and Hodge's grizzly bear growl was offset by Dixie Ballin's sassy southern harmonies.