How is it possible that, four years after their transcendent stand at Fenway Park, 58-year-old Bruce Springsteen and his similarly aged bandmates managed to come into the Garden and deliver a show more intense than any I’ve ever seen them perform? Bruce and the band played Sunday like they had something to prove, and they proved it – all night.

How is it possible that, four years after their transcendent stand at Fenway Park, 58-year-old Bruce Springsteen and his similarly aged bandmates managed to come into the T.D. Banknorth Garden and deliver a show more intense than any I’ve ever seen them perform? Bruce and the E Street Band played Sunday like they had something to prove, and they proved it – all night.

Gone was the talky troubadour of the distant past and the shticky showman of the last few tours (although both of those incarnations brought with them their own special pleasures). Having gotten those modes out of his system, apparently, with the D&D and Seeger Sessions tours, Bruce and the band are now ready to rock – and they did, for almost two and a half glorious hours.

This show serves as a reminder to those (you know who you are) who can’t seem to resist judging the quality of a particular show on the basis of reading the setlist on the Internet. True, there were no tour premieres, and it’s easy to lament the lack of pre-BTR selections (I suspect tonight’s audience will see their share of those). But who would have predicted that a set highlight could be a blistering version of “Tunnel of Love”? A performance that should have forever shut up any Patti Scialfa bashers in the audience, by the way.

The other highlights were too numerous to mention, although I will mention a few: A staggering “She’s the One,” complete with airborne guitar; “No Surrender” in a this-one-goes-to-11 take that blew away the reunion tour version; a high-energy “Jackson Cage”; the fantastic blues-stomp boogie of “Reason to Believe”; an acoustically charged “Workin’ on the Highway”; and, to a one, supercharged performances of the songs from “Magic” – if there were any doubters that these would make it into the Springsteen live cannon for all eternity, there aren’t anymore.

But what stands out is the encore, which I didn’t think could possibly pack the punch of the closers to the first Fenway show. And one big reason why it did, and then some, was “Jungleland.”

I’ve never seen this performed live, and wasn’t blown away with the version on “Live from New York City.” But what a recording can never capture is the palpable feeling of awe, the thrill, the collective goosebumps when those opening strains fill the arena. And the band lived up to every expectation, particularly Clarence Clemons – the only word for his sax solo is “beautiful,” so much so that I thought Bruce was going to hug him when it was over.

If there were any quibblers over the setlist, all was forgiven after that. But the remainder – no surprises to setlist watchers, with “BTR,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “American Land” rounding out the show – took the crowd out with a soaring, buoyant energy. “Purists” (whoever they are) have balked at a Seeger Sessions number to close the show, but for those who’ve followed Springsteen dutifully through all his detours and been happy they did, it was the perfect, rollicking ending.

By the time Bruce was running through his lightning-fast band intro at the very close of the show, it was hard not to be reminded why we’ll someday look back and be thankful that we lived at a time when we could experience this live, right in front of us – like the people who saw Elvis or Count Basie or Houdini or, hell, Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theater. As Springsteen told “60 Minutes” earlier this year, “You play the music and you know, grown men cry. And women dance. That’s why you do it.” Last night, he did, and we did. And we’re glad he’s still doing it.

Peter Chianca is a CNC columnist and managing editor, and writes the Springsteen blog "Blogness on the Edge of Town" (blogs.townonline.com/Springsteen/).