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They say X are the band that can never die

They say X are the band that can never die. Thirty three years after their formation, the history of X is a triumph of determination over tragedy. Guitarist Ian Krahe died of a heroin overdose in 1978; original drummer Steve Cafiero died in 1988. Bass player Ian Rilen – for many, the absolute personification of rock ’n’ roll – succumbed to cancer in 2006. Since 2007, lead singer and guitarist Steve Lucas has led a subsequent iteration of X, featuring Cathy Green on drums and Rilen’s former band mate Kim Volkman on bass. After a Don’t Look Back performance of X’s 1985 album At Home With You, and the first ever X overseas tour earlier this year, X’s star continues to shine, despite the odds. But with Lucas requiring serious medical attention to address crippling back pain, X are once again fighting against the odds.

Everything will be done very simple, but in great style,” laughs Lucas on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Lucas is discussing this Friday night’s X gig at the Prague in Thornbury. With their frontman due to undergo surgery in the coming months, this will be the last time X will be seen on the live scene for seemingly a long while. “I’ll be pretty charged up – I can’t promise it’ll be a marathon set, but I’ll try and play everyone’s favourite X songs,” Lucas promises.
Having endured eleven months of pain – yet still managed to keep up a solid routine of solo and X gigs without missing a single commitment – Lucas is hanging out for some medical intervention to relieve his current situation. The situation? “It’s typical X – there’s always a story, and there’s always a laugh in there as well,” Lucas muses.
His back problems began almost a year ago, when an innocuous swivel of his body while packing his bag resulted in a sharp spark of pain through his back. When the pain failed to dissipate, Lucas sought medical attention. “Because of my history of rock ’n’ roll, it sometimes seems like people don’t take it all seriously – maybe it’d be different if I was a middle-aged stockbroker,” Lucas laughs.
Subsequent tests showed that a disc in Lucas’s back had been squeezed by a couple of vertebrae, causing toxic fluid to escape into the surrounding tissue. “They say something like that can just build up over time,” Lucas says. “And then it just happens.” His options are two-fold: the insertion of a silicon disc to replace the shattered disc; or radiology treatment directed at the sciatic nerves in his hips. Either way, Lucas is waiting for a circuit breaker. “I want to get a result and start my life again,” he admits.
Despite the back pain, Lucas did manage – against doctors’ orders – to undertake the first ever X overseas tour. Earlier this year Lucas, Volkman and former Cosmic Psychos drummer Bill Walsh (filling in for Cathy Green, who couldn’t make the trip due to parental responsibilities) undertook a two week tour of the United States. “We started out in Olympia, in Washington State, playing in a gallery – that was a weird gig,” Lucas recalls. “But then we played in Portland, and that was a ‘real’ gig – it was like playing the POW, or the Pint On Punt, or The Sandringham in Sydney, but in the United States.”
Travelling around the US was a dream come true for Lucas – “tacos, burritos and shopping malls everywhere,” Lucas deadpans – and X’s American fanbase came to pay their dues. “All the people who came along were really happy to be there,” Lucas remembers. “As much as they’d like to have seen Cathy, they were happy to see Bill; as much as they would have wanted to see Ian, they were happy to have Kim there.”
Lucas jokes that X was their usual professional shambolic self. “It was a real buzz. We played really well, but there were some classic fuck-up moments as well,” he laughs. Lucas had his wallet stolen in a hotel lobby, while Volkman and Walsh took the opportunity to indulge X’s reputation for notorious living.
There was the odd trashed hotel room, but not the one I was in – I was the grumpy old grandpa!” Lucas laughs. “One morning Kim woke up between two beds – he was so hammered he fell between the two beds and just slept there all night.”
By the time the band flew home, Lucas was out of the painkillers he needed to suppress his back pain. “I went cold turkey over four days,” Lucas says. “I was sweating, and I probably looked like a skeleton. I was hallucinating as well – I’d bought this leather vest in Texas, and I was convinced that it had tanning liquid on it that was leaking into my system,” Lucas laughs.
But right now Lucas is focused on only two things: his forthcoming X gigs (including a temporary farewell gig in Sydney), and his impending surgery. “Mostly what I’ll be doing next will involve a lot of lying down – maybe I’ll get a job painting the Sistine Chapel,” Lucas laughs.
X play a very special gig at The Prague in Thornbury (911 High St) this Friday October 1 – proceeds will go towards medical bills for frontman Steve Lucas’ treatment and surgery. It will be their last show for what looks like a pretty long time, so get along and show your support. They’ll be supported by Dollsquad and The New Black. Tickets on the door.