Randy Van Warmer, who performed at the Celler Door Saturday night, has an image problem. He is best known for last year's terminally mellow hit ballad. "Just When I Needed You Most," but his pulse lies elsewhere. His two most obvious tendencies -- a fundamental gospel fevor frequently tinged with ragged insistance -- even affected the singer's rendition of his hit. After a latter-day, Byrds-like "Whatever You Decide," the rest of Van Warmer'sset shifted back and forth between influences without establishing a singular or distinctive flavor of its own.
Things weren't helped by Van Warmer's gawky and uncomfortable stage presence or his inability to end a song at a peak rather than in the valley of unnecessary extension. The evening's best moments -- the initial passage of "It Never Hurts to Hurt a Little," "Falling Free" (from the opening portion of "Terraform") and a rendition of a familiar gospel tune called "Farther Along" -- were not frequent enough to shield Van Warmer's position as a talent deserving wider recognition from his limitations.
Local songwriter Dave Allen opened the evening in the company of electric guitarist Chopper and showcased a clever and catchy selection of original material that was occasionally weakened by lyrical cliches.
Allen's songs would benefit from the backing of a larger band, but Chopper's subtle fills and well-thought-out leads allowed Allen's strong voice to deliver the goods first class.