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Phoenix is kicking off a North American tour in Vancouver.

Universal Music

When Thomas Mars first saw the poster for this year's Coachella Festival, he thought it was a hoax.

The tastemaker California fest features some of the biggest names in the biz, including Lou Reed, Nick Cave, the Lumineers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the XX and dozens more. But headlining the prime Saturday night spot is Mr. Mars's Versailles-based band, Phoenix.

"For a long time, I thought it was a joke," says Mr. Mars with a laugh. "You know how people do their own posters in Photoshop? I thought it was a fake from a friend."

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It wasn't a fake. Although the synth-heavy rockers have been playing together for more than 15 years, it was Phoenix's 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that flew them into the spotlight with memorable songs, such as 1901, which has appeared everywhere from PlayStation ads to Super Bowl montages and landed the self-effacing group a Grammy.

Now the band is about to release its hotly anticipated follow-up, Bankrupt!, which features everything from slow-burning anthems to edgy rock, and mixes influences from Asia, Africa and the Middle East into Phoenix's decidedly contemporary sound.

But before band members hit the Coachella stage, they're going to road test the songs when they kick off their North American tour in Vancouver tonight – an event that Mr. Mars says is just as exciting for the band as it is for fans.

"The first shows, there is this tension you can feel, this discovery aspect, this electricity. Nothing happens the way we think it's going to happen, and you can change pretty much everything," he says in a warm French accent. "Everything is tempting."

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