When .38 Special, rock's wild-eyed southern boys, brought its blazing guitars to the Warner Theatre last night, it was a bit like finding yourself in a Milwaukee tavern after the playoffs. The cheers were that loud.

Southern rock has always inspired the most zealous support, but .38 Special has one asset other bands lack: cheerleader and lead vocalist Donnie Van Zant.

Looking like a crazed riverboat gambler in hat and tails, Van Zant (brother of the late Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd) was forever galloping across the stage, inciting the crowd to new levels of rebel-yelling hysteria. While his voice is nowhere near as impressive as his stamina, Van Zant had no trouble doing justice to such uncomplicated and typically macho anthems as "Rough Housin'."

Van Zant's enthusiasm, however, didn't prevent guitarists Jeff Carlisi and Don Barnes from keeping surprisingly tight control of the music. By southern rock standards, the solos were concise, the harmonies sharp and every now and then a memorable melody even managed to surface.

Without playing anything new under the southern rock sun, .38 Special has mastered the knack of enjoying itself on stage and infecting a crowd with the same spirit.