Set in the 1950s, Rough Magic tells the story of what happens when a pretty apprentice magician goes to Mexico to escape her fiancé, a wealthy politician, and to find a Mayan shaman who will teach her ancient principles of magic. She is being trailed by a detective hired by her fiancé. He's a former photojournalist traumatized by what he saw in Hiroshima. The photojournalist joins her in the search for the Mayan shaman, and falls in love with her; the feeling is not reciprocated. When she finds the shaman, she drinks a potion which empowers her to do magic. The potion has life-changing effects on her and her relationship with her companion. They have strange experiences which are brought about by magic.
Had this powerful concert been issued somewhat more concurrent to its performance, the appreciation of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band as an active recording and touring unit might have been radically altered. As it stands, the mid- to late ‘70s were not kind to Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) who became mired in litigation and ultimately forced to surrender the master tapes to a project titled Bat Chain Puller recorded at Frank Zappa's Utility Research Muffin Kitchen studios. After reassembling a new version of the Magic Band, Beefheart emerged with his compromise to the preceding project – now re-titled Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). In support, the Magic Band were booked into small clubs throughout the States.