It was the first of two nights at the Community Theater in Berkeley, Calif. Bootlegs of both performances are prized among collectors, but the response by critics the night of the shows was less positive.
“The seated, uni-like audience seemed pretty nonplussed,” Page wrote on Facebook. “It wasn’t a very good communion that night. Maybe that evening they: a) were contaminated by the negative press we had continually received from the locally based Rolling Stone; b) were sitting in the remnants of the vibrant San Francisco music scene they had witnessed over the last five years; c) weren’t receptive to new music we played – material from the unreleased Led Zeppelin IV; d) were heavily stoned or; e) all of the above!”
As noted on Led Zeppelin’s website, reviews of the show seem to suggest it was simply too loud for the venue. The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer called the band “criminals against whom I intend to lodge charges of assault and battery. .. It was the perfect [sound] system for the Panama Canal.” The writer misheard the t**le “Black Dog” as “Black God” and “Stairway to Heaven” as “Stay Awake in Heaven.” “Lead singer Robert Plant’s introduction sounded like the latter but common sense would seem to favor the former,” he wrote.
The Oakland Tribute suggested “the English group apparently misjudged its sound projection, because its effect was almost unbelievable and often unbearable.” The article noted that a toned-down performance of “Going to California” had “almost saved the evening,” but it also acknowledged Zeppelin as a “talented group,” saying that John Bonham delivered “one of the most phenomenal drum solos this reporter has ever witnessed.”