You know all the sayings -- absence makes the heart grow fonder, don't oversaturate the market, create a demand. But do they apply to Bruce Springsteen? Is four months too soon for the Boss to return to St. Paul in concert?

That would be a resounding NO. His fans who travel to see him prove it each and every night in concert. Many of the people at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night saw Springsteen there on Nov. 2. Just how did the shows compare?

Who was there?

Then: About 19,000 rabid fans, including country star Kenny Chesney and Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. Missing was Patti Scialfa, the Boss' wife, who stayed home with their three teenagers.

Now: Scialfa was still in New Jersey with kids. Organist Charlie Giordano, who was in Springsteen's Seeger Sessions band, was sitting in for Danny Federici, who has melanoma but might come out for a few shows, the Boss said. More than 17,000 fans showed up, including Vikings coach Brad Childress and NBA coach Mike Dunleavy.

How was the E Street Band?

Then: Disappointing. Max Weinberg was the usual unstoppable pile driver on drums but too often Springsteen was in overdrive and the rest of the band was still in second gear.

Now: The band and the Boss were in sync from the get-go -- let's say fourth gear.

How did the show rate?

Then: Remember, he's arguably the best no-frills live performer in rock history. On a 10 point scale, he was about a 9, but the band was only a 6.

Now: The pacing was more varied this time, meaning that Springsteen, 58, wasn't in overdrive all night long. But he was still vein-poppingly passionate, purposeful and Bossalicious. More importantly, guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt was more of a foil and friend (like the old days). Nils Lofgren took one of his best guitar solos ever to close "Prove It All Night." Clarence Clemons' sax was emotional on "Jungleland" and ebullient on "Born to Run." Give them a 9.

How were the politics?

Then: He kept them to minimum, bashing the Bush administration briefly and, as always, plugging local food shelves.

Now: Before "Magic," the title song of his latest CD, he said, "Here's to the end of eight years of magic tricks." Before "Livin' in the Future," he detailed how the current administration had violated Americans' constitutional rights. At song's end he pulled a little girl from the crowd onstage to signal the future.

How was the set list?

Then: It drew heavily from "Magic" and mixed in oldies, including the surprising "Incident on 57th Street."

Now: There was plenty of "Magic," but those tunes are familiar now. The oldies were heavy on crowd favorites that were heard last time, including "She's the One" and "Badlands." "Backstreets" and a requested "Jungleland" were Sunday treats. The music was a balance of pensive and populist, a discussion of dreams and dashed hopes but with a dose of Springsteenian optimism.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719