“Who is in The Motors?” I asked a friend, he said “I’m not sure but I think two or three of them live in the basement of Magoon’s.” It may have been a bit of an exaggeration but The Motors do frequent Magoon’s Delicatessen quite a bit. If any venue in St. Joseph, Missouri has a “house band” it may just be Magoon’s and that band is The Motors. Dueling singers/songwriters Sean Cleary and Tracy Huffman lead the band with their different songwriting styles while Colby Walter effortlessly plucks the bass for the band and Wilbur May beats on the drums; I don’t believe any of them actually live in the basement of Magoon’s.
A set by The Motors is a given good crowd at the downtown St. Joseph bar. You can be sure an older crowd will come out to support these local all-stars but they won’t be shy about running up bar tabs or embarrassing themselves on the dance floor. Musically, The Motors get a ton of respect because all four members are accomplished musicians and are in several other bands on top of The Motors. Singer/guitarist Tracy Huffman frequents Magoon’s every Wednesday night singing his own songs, often with guests, fellow singer/guitarist Sean Cleary is involved in other projects such as Under The Big Oak Tree and Colby Walter is one of the most well traveled musicians in town so the members are no strangers to other bands.
The group focuses mainly on originals by the two singers but also tackle several covers to please their audience. On this night a few raunchy Rolling Stones songs were on the menu with the group taking on the dance tune “Happy” the brash “Bitch” and Cleary tearing up his slide on a killer version of “Shake Your Hips.” Also on the docket were a Bob Dylan cover in “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (though it was tagged as a Byrds cover so they might have followed that version more) a couple Neil Young songs in “Cinnamon Girl” and the vastly underrated “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” among songs by The Meters, Johnny Cash and others.
The best part of seeing a show by this local supergroup is easily the original tunes though. Tracy Huffman has a deep catalog of great songs including the appropriate “Birthday” (because it always seems to be somebody’s birthday) which makes for a small sing-along with the locals. The Motors just released their first album last year called The Motors and they tend to do most of the tracks off of that album as well. Huffman doubles some songs off of this release with his solo material. Included in this list are “Piss In The River” and my personal favorite “Jerry.” The latter of which is a song whose many possible meaning have been running circles in my head for many months now.
Sean Cleary’s penned songs from that record are staples of the shows as well. “All I Hear Is Hank Songs” is a constant inclusion in the set with it’s obvious homage to Cleary’s country influences. “All You Do Is Stir It Up” is a favorite from the record as well. Also making the setlist are many songs that might be early front runners for The Motors second album. Hopefully that record will include the song usually dedicated to the married folks in the crowd “No Lovin’ Tonight” as well as other new tracks like “Lay Me Down” “Son of a Gun” and “You Put The Hurt On Me.”
The group would be bullied into doing their song “Finger” by one regular member of the audience and Colby Walter would even get a chance at the mic on a soulful reading of “A Candle In The Window.” The highlight of most shows for me is hearing the group perform “Yes I Will” the final song off of their excellent 13 track self-titled album that seems to have a little more punch than most songs.
As the band tears through about 3 hours of music you realize that having them play Magoon’s on a regular basis is in no way a bad thing. The band’s sound is drenched in classic rock and outlaw county that have been around for years but it doesn’t seem to get old. The two songwriters alternating throughout the night keep the sets from even getting close to monotonous and the setlists are always being shook up. Every bar should be so lucky to have a “house band” this talented.