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League of their own

Some 80,000 Oasis fans packed out Maine Road to celebrate the Zeitgeist. Mike Hargreaves joined in
The soothsayers of pop's death have gone strangely quiet this year. For a form that was supposed to be faltering (remember how Nirvana sounded like the "last wheezing, pyrrhic fling of a medium coming to its end" or some such nonsense?), the last two years have been a huge slap in the face to people who mistook their own aging process for a demographic shift. And all this because The Lads have returned to reclaim pop from The Take That Fan and her dad, The Sting Fan.

The Lads - as recognised here at Manchester City FC by their greatest hit, "We Are The Lads" - got into clubbing for a while, but around Wythenshawe and Burnage way, the scene deteriorated with the drugs. And when you're getting on for 25, you start to long for the days when blokes with guitars wrote tunes you could whistle along to. So it's no wonder that Oasis took just eight hours to sell 80,000 tickets for last weekend's Maine Road dates.

Nobody has more cause for gratitude to Oasis than Ocean Colour Scene. Admittedly, Moseley Shoals - the album that saw the Brummie also-rans resurrected as quality purveyors of R&B - evinced an undeniable joie de vivre. And when the taut, circular motif of "Riverboat Song" cannons into the calming evening sunshine, a tide of Man City shirts knows what to do. Noel Gallagher reckons OCS even surpass Oasis on a live stage. Tonight's set, though, implies an overdose of hyperbolic steroids. Simon Fowler's gruff intonations are more suited to the 100 Club than a football club, but no matter. Ocean Colour Scene ooze "authenticity" and a palpable love of Quadrophenia. Their credentials as a lads' band are thus unassailable. As indeed, curiously, are those of Manic Street Preachers. Androgynous guitarist Richey James may have disappeared, but his abstruse nihilism lives on in performances of hits such as "Faster". The biggest cheer, though, is reserved for the current single - "Design For Life". And you can see why. It's now easier to consume the Manics.

With Richey gone, lyrical content has become the domain of bassist Nicky Wire - he of "controversial" inter-song soundbites such as "I hope Michael Stipe dies of Aids". These days, the Manics' visceral FM rock tastes of rebellion in the same way Tango tastes like fresh oranges. Here, as much as in James Dean Bradfield's wonderfully corroded rasp, lies the key to their new-found lad appeal.

The brilliance of Oasis defies such pat explanations, though. You can attribute their success to the rise of Loaded culture, the inevitable kickback from techno or a general dissatisfaction with post-modern times. But really, when a band comes along blessed with such a songwriter and - just as crucially - a frontman whose voice has singlehandedly re-introduced soul back into British pop, the Zeitgeist at any point in time would have remodelled itself in their image. And tonight, Oasis are good enough to suggest that is very much the case.

With the greatness of this evening sealed merely by the fact that Oasis already have a greatest hits set two years after their first single, Liam can get on with the business of being the world's best frontman. How can a man stand motionless for so long, yet hold 40,000 people rapt? Simply because, given lines as life-affirmingly romantic as "You and I are gonna live forever" or "I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do/ About you now", it would take the hardest of hearts to refrain from hugging him to bits. That Damon Albarn probably spends 10 times as long on his "meaningful" lyrics without achieving anything like this kind of connection is a lesson for anyone who assumed the dream of pop star as get-out clause from the rat race had died.